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GAC Album Review: Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw's 2012 CD, Emotional Traffic. Photo courtesy of Webster & Associates.

After a court ruled in November that Tim McGraw had fulfilled his contract with Curb Records, his final album for the label, Emotional Traffic, is set for release next week on January 24. The record that Tim calls one of his ‘best ever’ is a tight collection of 12 songs that brings a close to one of the most successful Music Row partnerships of the last two decades.

The album’s lead single, the multi-week No. 1 hit “Felt Good On My Lips,” serves as a solid representation of Emotional Traffic’s overall sound. The polished work of Tim’s longtime Producer Byron Gallimore (Martina McBride, Faith Hill) is heard in the song’s crisp mix and pop-laden structure. Driven by a melodic bass line and a crunchy, sing-along chorus, Tim lightheartedly sings, I want to go crazy with you over a hook more suited for a dance floor than a bar stool. Much of the record makes a move to combine this modern, adult-contemporary feel with subtle country twang. Album-opener “Halo” works to achieve this by layering mid-tempo, ringing guitars underneath the lower range of Tim’s smooth drawl before breaking into a powerful chorus.

“I Will Not Fall Down” (written by Tim, Martina McBride, Brad Warren and Brett Warren) follows a similar path. Palm-muted guitar chords work methodically through a verse with the lines, I should probably just go out quietly / But I still got something left to say, before a dramatic chorus with lyrics that speak of thriving in someone’s love and gaining the strength to carry on in the face of adversity. While songs like these illustrate Tim’s mainstream appeal, he really is at his best in more traditional surroundings.

Possibly the album’s best song, “Touchdown Jesus” is a fresh description of divine intervention. With a similar feel to 2009’s No. 1 hit “Southern Voice,” Tim sings, I raised my hands above my head and said ‘Touchdown Jesus’, when witnessing the miracles made by recovering addicts and those who are sick. On the acoustic, traditional-leaning “Better Than I Used To Be,” Tim shows off his veteran ability to phrase lines and melodies to squeeze out every ounce of emotion. Standing in the rain so long has left me with a little rust, he sings with pure cowboy poetry of his own path to redemption.

Drawing from an array of influences, Emotional Traffic features a little bit of R&B. Though most clearly seen on “Only Human,” a duet with hit R&B artist Ne-Yo, tracks like “The One” and “Hey Now” feature a few funky guitar riffs. “Hey Now” is the most successful example of the album’s country/R&B twist with an ultra-accessible hook. Hey now, it don’t seem that late now, Tim sings through the upbeat chorus before calling to, break the Tanqueray out, in order to keep the good times rollin’.

And Emotional Traffic features plenty of good times. Despite its somewhat serious name, the album is much more lighthearted. Though it may draw a close to one period in Tim’s musical career, Emotional Traffic is a celebration of his rich history to date and an optimistic step toward the future.

Key tracks – “Touchdown Jesus,” “I Will Not Fall Down,” “Better Than I Used To Be,” “Hey Now”

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