Friday, July 1, 2011

Real Good Man: The Best of Tim McGraw

I Guess That's Just The Cowboy In Him

 The Inky Jukebox has been highly critical of Tim McGraw in the past, but this has mostly been due to his acting. Or rather, the roles he’s played. But The Inky Jukebox thinks Tim McGraw is one of America’s great singers and it’s a shame that a lot of folks would preface that by saying “country music singers.” He’s one of the nation’s best talents, period, genre notwithstanding. The mind boggles that giant swaths of the population has never or will never hear his songs because they are relegated to country music stations / channels.

It’s been 21 years since McGraw signed a record contract, and in that time he’s sold 40 million albums and put out three Greatest Hits records, although this is misleading because he publically disowned the third one his label put out without his approval (and rightly so), because it consisted entirely of tracks left over on the floor after all the decent material had been taken, none of them hits, let alone “great.”  The first two are genuinely representative of the bulk of his career, however, which can be pretty much divided into two halves.

First, there is early Tim McGraw with a thick Louisiana twang and a high, tinny voice singing about hick life and Indian Outlaws. Then he became a real star, married Faith Hill, and started putting out records with a much higher production quality featuring the industry’s best songwriting. Here we have mature McGraw, with his ubiquitous shiny black hat, tight shirts, and the sexy confidence of a superstar. His voice deepened and he learned to drop the heavy dialect, especially noticeable when he sings slow.

It is worth noting that the Dancehall Doctors, McGraw’s recording and touring band have been with him for a zillion years, are one of the best backing bands around; totally smooth professionals.

In lieu of that awful third Greatest Hits album, The Inky Jukebox would like to propose a Best Of collection. Yes, we know it eschews much of McGraw’s early sound, and nearly avoids “hits” which were released as singles, but that’s what we’re all about here at The Inky Jukebox. We don’t care if they were a single or an album track: these are just the best songs. This is not a list, per se, in that the songs are ordered according to how good they are; it is a playlist for an album.

You will note that in general, McGraw’s videos are a montage of live concert footage where he gets to show off all his moves and wear his shirt open to here. Read on through to the end, y'all: there is a very special treat waiting for you.

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There is a reason McGraw leaves this one for the encore; it’s not only a brilliantly written song with ties to McGraw’s own life (the death of his father Tug McGraw), but it’s catchy and singable and delivered with genuine feeling. It poses a simple question about mortality (“what would you do? / what did you do? / what would I do?) and answers it in soaring fashion in the chorus.

I went sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…

In true anthemic fashion, that last line changes in the last, bombastic chorus to “watched an eagle as it was flying,” thereby lending the song a hokey but effective metaphor for the soul carried up to heaven. The video is classy in a high-exposure black and white. I defy any person living south of the Mason-Dixon Line not to be able to finish the line “I went 2.7 seconds….”

That’s Why God Made Mexico

Margie said Roy, you ain’t listening to me
And I’ve got a whole lot more to say
Roy just crossed the floor and picked up his car keys
And she ain’t seen or heard from him to this day
And that’s why God made Mexico

First of all, the opening lines are The BOMB, and second of all, you have to listen to the song to figure out what the hell it all means. (HINT: it involves escaping the law and tequila.) Evidently, God is a master of making geographic entities way the heck after man was around to conquer the natives and conduct the Louisiana Purchase and all that man-made shit. Just ask Jason Aldean, who credits the Lord with making “those flyover states.”

I may be a real bad boy
But baby I’m a real good man

Oh Mama. The Inky Jukebox probably doesn’t have to deconstruct this one for you, but we will anyway. Girls marry good men but fantasize about fucking bad boys. Bad boys are no good; they break your heart. But they are SEXY. McGraw gets all John Donne on us here by providing a carpe diem plea for a lady to go on a “wild ride” with his “velvet hands” by arguing both sides of the proverbial coin. On the one hand he’s a much-desired bad boy; on the other — it’s a trick! There is no other side because the “good” here refers to how awesome he is in the sack. Look too at the clever juxtaposition of “boy” to “man.” He’s challenging her need for an immature lover by offering her a real man. It doesn’t hurt that he sings it like a hen-night stripper, either. Gimme.

This slow number from 2009’s Southern Voice album has such a beautiful melody and is so well sung it has fast become the album’s quiet standout for The Inky Jukebox. Amazing songwriting from Sean McConnell, but also a great example of the phrasing being improved mightily by the star. It’s also notable for being one of the increasing number of records McGraw puts out from the woman’s point of view, which is refreshing. Pity that they are all sluts and whores though.

Let’s get the hell out of this bar / Mr. Whoever you are.

Put Your Lovin’ On Me

Sometimes a phrase is better when it’s destroyed a little bit. Case in point: asking someone to love you. You can say “please love me,” or “hold me” or even “fuck the living daylights out of me” but nothing quite captures the essence of the yin and yang of male / female relationships like asking someone to “put [their] lovin’ on [you]. It’s as if the love were a cloak or some lovely unguent one could massage in. It suggests a hint of the dom / sub too; it’s a request in no uncertain terms to have something done. It’s also rather tender. It’s one of The Inky Jukebox’s favorite love songs, simple and direct.

This is some old-school country featuring twangy Tim singing about the classic desire for a simple life away from the concrete jungle. It’s a crowd-pleaser, an essential concert set list piece, and the crowd sings every word with utter conviction. The chorus is super peppy, best sung when the band has stopped playing simply to clap the beat.

I’m gonna live where the green grass grows
Watching my corn pop up in rows
Every night be tucked in close to you
raise our kids where the good Lord’s blessed
Point our rocking chairs towards the west
Plant our dreams where the peaceful rivers flow
Where the green grass grows

One of the sexiest songs there ever was. Why? Well, the title is pretty damn suggestive for a start, and flirts with naïveté; is the guy singing about his rough and ready side, or is a girl literally talking about her lover? Hmmm…. All The Inky Jukebox knows is that it raises your pulse and includes one of the best guitar solos in country music. It deserves its place as McGraw’s exit song at live shows, when he can walk offstage a sex-God hero. As with all good songs, it delivers a twist: the song moves the refrain of the title from first person singular (I, me) to first person plural (us, we).

We ride and never worry about the fall
I guess that’s just the cowboy in us all

If you are going to listen to one Tim McGraw song, listen to this one to get a good idea why he is the superstar the ladies love. This version gives a good glimpse of it as a closing salvo live. 

This song features the memorable lines “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah / yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah / Sing me home.” You will not find these printed in the lyrics however. The Inky Jukebox includes this song because it sounds like a Tim McGraw song. A measure of an artist’s success is that his or her work is immediately recognizable and unique. This is it.

This is one of those story songs in which the protagonist murders his stepdad and covers up the crime, but it’s justified because evil stepdad beat on his Mama. The way the song builds in intensity and the powerful chorus are a great example of a McGraw narrative song.

Tim and Faith have done numerous duets, but this is the sweetest. The video is a live take, so a little different from the record. This is on McGraw’s album, but she gets all the vocal fireworks in the song.

He had a barbecue stain on his t-shirt, she was killing him in that mini-skirt. The rest is history.

She’s My Kind of Rain

It’s a ballad. It has full-on strings. And “confetti fallin’ down,” etc. Don’t listen to the lyrics, just pick up your girl / guy and slow dance with them for Gods sake. Then make some babies why dontcha.

A good singer can deliver power ballads with a voice that remains strong enough to knock the mic stand down yet subtle enough to manage the nuance of melody and still feel like it’s being sung from the heart. This is just such a song. The lyrics are a big gloop of treacle scraped off the bottom of a teenager’s dream journal about as packed with the most wrenching cliché as you can imagine, but ignore them and just listen to the music.

All I wanna do is let it be and be with you
And watch the wind blow by

Yes, another ballad. This one features a lovely bit of fiddle playing and falsetto at the end. Gorgeous. Sorry about the video. The Inky Jukebox couldn’t help herself. Enjoy.

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