Tim McGraw is country's tough-but-tender specialist, at ease enough in his Stetson to forsake macho posturing and plunge into emotional thickets. His 11th LP is his most assured, with a dozen sharp songs about middle-American struggles. Strong storytelling redeems cheesy stuff like "Touchdown Jesus," as does the music, a savvy mix of down-home twang, pop tunefulness and rock heft.
After nearly two years in the vault, Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic was released by Curb. McGraw finished it in 2010 and turned it in. Curb refused to release it, claiming it was too soon after 2009’s Southern Voice (though they released another hits compilation the same year). The two parties went to court to resolve the issue.
The Nashville star’s latest — his first since playing the onscreen husband of Gwyneth Paltrow in Country Strong — opens with what sounds like a (slightly) twangy outtake by Paltrow’s real-life mate, Coldplay’s Chris Martin. ”Halo” isn’t Emotional Traffic‘s only detour, either: ”Right Back Atcha Babe” rides a breezy soul-pop groove, while the stirring ”Only Human” features guest vocals by Ne-Yo. Should country purists fret? Nah.
For the better part of two years, Tim McGraw has been involved in a contentious legal battle with Curb Records over the release of his latest album, Emotional Traffic, which fulfills his contract with the label. Though the country superstar has insisted that the long-delayed album is his best work, it’s clear the finished product probably wasn’t worth such a protracted, expensive fight. McGraw’s self-belief and willingness to stand up for his art are admirable on some level, but Emotional Traffic is just a bloated, poorly written mess.
Perhaps history has trained us to expect ambitious statements or divisive stylistic turns whenever an artist touts any delayed record fraught with label controversy as their “best album ever. ” While it’s hardly shocking that Tim McGraw’s eleventh studio outing bears little resemblance to a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Trans, the total absence of risk characterizing the otherwise-serviceable Emotional Traffic remains disappointing. Shortly after its completion way back in late-2010, Curb Records shelved Traffic to prevent their most profitable star from racing to the end of his contract, resulting in an ongoing legal battle between the label and McGraw.
TIM MCGRAW “Emotional Traffic” (Curb) In 2005, the year Toby Keith turned 44, he released “As Good as I Once Was,” one of his most bellicose and smarmy singles in a career that specialized in them, and a declaration of potency in the face of encroaching middle age. The pugnacious Mr. Keith figured out that aging gracefully in country music, unlike in many other genres, can sometimes mean becoming even rougher and less warm than you were in your younger years.