Whether it was written with this in mind or not, the playful opener to Sundown Heaven Town, “Overrated”, comes across as quite a few things all at once. It’s a barn-stomping good time celebrating simpler days and simpler things, certainly. And yet it isn’t hard to hear it as a sly dig at the Luke Bryans and Jake Owens who are nipping at McGraw’s heels in the current country marketplace.
There's no question Tim McGraw seized upon the opportunity to indulge his every whim when he finally extricated himself from Curb and signed with Big Machine in 2013, the year where Two Lanes of Freedom revived his career. His renaissance continues with 2014's Sundown Heaven Town, his second album for Big Machine and a record that often plays like a direct sequel to its predecessor in that it's designed to show off everything McGraw and his longtime collaborator/producer Byron Gallimore can do. Being that this follows a record where the big hit was a ballad -- the haunting "Highway Don't Care," a duet with Taylor Swift -- it's not entirely a surprise that Sundown Heaven Town is distinguished by its smooth touch but within that gloss.
Tim McGraw is an eccentric centrist who can dodge the headlock of country-radio culture. So admire "Lookin' for That Girl," a hilarious robo-pop earworm radical enough to spur both a Twitter revolt among fans and a radio version dialing back the Auto-Tune. At 47, dude clearly wants relevance with his eminence, as his 13th studio set shows. Alongside the above, it's hit-or-miss.
If Tim McGraw took a few interesting risks on 2013’s “Two Lanes of Freedom,” he’s back to business as more-or-less usual on “Sundown Heaven Town.” While there is nothing as giddily enjoyable as the left-field “Mexicoma” or as lovely as “Book of John,” the 13-track “Sundown” is a solid effort featuring a few stand-out tracks, slightly better than average radio fare, and some pleasant filler. McGraw does a creditable job of sidestepping any naked pandering to trends, balancing authentic country atmosphere with pop polish. It’s meaningful in the current climate that McGraw opens with a song awash in prominent banjo, mandolin, and pedal-steel licks, “Overrated,” a chugging ode to love being all we need.