Tim McGraw Reflects on Personal ‘Damn Country Music’ Album
Bad traffic forced Tim McGraw to face his feelings and record a very emotional coda to his new Damn Country Music album. "Personal" begins to describe many of the tracks from this album, especially "Humble and Kind." Perhaps "vulnerable" is more accurate.
Despite the attention paid to daughter Gracie's appearance on "Here Tonight," it's this ballad at the other end of McGraw's 14th studio album that shows his scars. "Humble and Kind" is the post personal song he's cut since "Live Like You Were Dying." The singer says he tried to avoid it.
I’m a huge Keith Whitley fan, and so is Tracy. And I don’t know too many people that aren’t a big Keith Whitley fan. That song really reminded me of Keith in a lot of ways.
"I was always afraid of it a little bit," McGraw says of the Lori McKenna-written track. "I didn’t know if I could do it justice, because it’s such a great song. And I was in love with Lori’s performance on it.”
“It’s a song that I probably wouldn’t have recorded earlier in my career. I think it’s just a song that probably needs to be heard from someone who needs to be here for awhile. At this time in our country and our world and my life ... it’s just the perfect time for that song.”
"Know the difference between sleepin’ with someone / And sleepin’ with someone you love / 'I love you' ain’t no pickup line so / Always stay humble and kind," McGraw sings.
Predictably, the song was the last one he cut with producer Byron Gallimore, and it only happened because his daughter Audrey's volleyball game was too far away for him to get to through Nashville traffic. Wife Faith Hill told him to turn around, so he did and cried like a baby as he stared down the inevitable — getting through the equivalent of a personal letter to his children.
"So I think I got it all out of my system by the time I got to Byron’s and walked in and spent 15 minutes on it and got it done," McGraw says, after confessing to several failed attempts pre-volleyball game.
Sundown Heaven Town felt like a trip through McGraw's catalog, but Damn Country Music (in stores now) feels like a trip through his personal history. The title track dovetails with his personal journey to Nashville. He says anyone in the music business can relate to the double-edged message. It provided a foundation for a softer, but more diverse album to be built upon.
“I had a few songs before that, but when I had that song, it just really solidified what I wanted this album to be," the 48-year-old 2016 WE Fest headliner says. "It was sort of a bridge song for this record. I wanted the record to not necessarily be thematic. I don’t think this record has a theme to it. Sonically it sort of does ... it’s got some contemporary stuff, but it’s got some country stuff and it’s got everything in between. And ‘Damn Country Music’ is sort of a bridge that ties it all together.”
The contemporary tracks ("Love Runs") take a backseat to stone-cold country songs like "Don't Make Me Feel at Home," a ballad originally cut by Wesley Dennis in the mid '90s. Writer Lance Miller reintroduced it to McGraw during a writer's retreat, and ironically, it bumped Miller's song from the album. One hears shades of Tracy Lawrence as the superstar sings. The two go back a ways, and McGraw has often said how much he admires the "Alibis" singer's music. That's not who he thought of when he heard the track, however.
“I’m a huge Keith Whitley fan, and so is Tracy. And I don’t know too many people that aren’t a big Keith Whitley fan. That song really reminded me of Keith in a lot of ways.”
Turning a man who is about to cheat on his wife into a sympathetic character is tricky. McGraw embraces the controversy he could stir up should the song be released to radio. "That's country music," he says proudly. "You play music that moves people and music about life.”
"As an artist you sing about all sorts of subject matter. For me, I try to create a vignette in my mind. Like a mini-movie every time I sing a song. So when you’re in a studio and you turn the lights down and it’s dark and you’re singing this song, you’re trying to envision this life happening in front of you. You’re really the narrator as much as anything — like you’re sitting across the table from somebody and telling them a story."
Dropping Gracie off at college (and the build-up to it) surely shaped Damn Country Music. It's part of the reason why McGraw asked her to be on "Here Tonight," a song co-written by Brothers Osborne. He was afraid she'd say no because his song is different from the band she fronts, called Tingo.
"They’re still pretty alternative punk, I guess is what you’d call it," he explains. "So it’s pretty out there, and to her I’m not the coolest guy in the world anyway. I’m Dad. So I didn’t know if she would want to do it or not."
Gracie does bring new energy to the mid-tempo, train track-beat love song. The two of them together widens the definition of love. There's a new and unusual sweetness to hearing a father sing this with his almost-grown-up daughter. Again, it's a song the star may not have been able to pull of 10 or even five years ago, but longtime fans of this singer don't need this album to remind them McGraw keeps getting better with time.