Tim McGraw “Emotional Traffic” (Curb Records)
After two years of waiting and a long-in-coming legal drama, fans of Tim McGraw have the chance to get caught in the country music superstar's “Emotional Traffic,” his final album for Curb Records, the independent label he started his career with in the early 1990s.
Released Tuesday, “Emotional Traffic” doesn't live up to McGraw's declaration of “my best album ever” boldly stickered on the CD case. Nor does it give credence to Curb's lawsuit claim that the album didn't have enough potential singles to warrant release. To this listener's ear, the truth exists somewhere between those two extremes, and “Emotional Traffic” sounds like quintessential McGraw. In fact, current climbing single “Better Than I Used to Be” bears a bit too strong a sonic resemblance to his 2004 smash “Live Like You Were Dying.”
Despite Curb's contention the album was recorded too early and would seem dated, “Emotional Traffic” is packed with the huge arena-filling country-rockers, sentimental crossover-ready country-pop ballads and intriguing boundary-pushing experiments McGraw has long favored. In fact, thanks to Tim Tebow, the earnest religious anthem “Touchdown Jesus” has new relevance, and McGraw, an avid sports fan, digs deep to send the metaphor soaring into the end zone.
The Louisiana native opens the album with the tour de force heartbreaker “Halo” that, like the best of his hits, matches cutting lyrics with equally aggressive electric and lap-steel guitars. But the momentum dribbles away by the second track, the insipid soft-rock love song “Right Back at Ya.”
From there, “Emotional Traffic” veers a bit erratically between hits and misses. More than a year after it topped the charts, it's still great fun to sing along with the danceable “Felt Good on My Lips,” and McGraw and his superstar wife, Faith Hill, show off their easy chemistry and vocal harmony with their lively cover of Dee Ervin's R&B classic “One Part, Two Part.”
“Only Human,” the country singer's anticipated duet with R&B star Ne-Yo, doesn't have much going for it apart from the interesting contrast in their voices, with the lyrics taking the well-worn path of countless other empowerment anthems. McGraw turns down a similar road with “I Will Not Fall Down,” which he co-wrote with Martina McBride and the Warren Brothers; it is the only track to bear his songwriting credit.
With “Emotional Traffic” out of its jam, it will be interesting to see what musical route McGraw sets now that he is free to pull away from Curb.
— Brandy McDonnell