With the release Tuesday (April 24) of his new album, Set This Circus Down, Tim McGraw once again relies on a formula consisting of quality songs and evocative performances to continue his reign as country music’s leading male vocalist.
After picking up both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year accolades in 1999 and 2000, sharing the stage on last year’s successful Soul 2 Soul tour with wife Faith Hill and scoring a dozen No. 1 hits over the past decade, the Louisiana native’s momentum shows no signs of ebbing.
His new hit, “Grown Men Don’t Cry” is bulleting up the charts. “When I first heard that song, it killed me,” says McGraw. “Every verse in there is a situation somebody can relate to, and songs like that are therapeutic in a way.”
In an unusual move for a first single, there is no video to accompany the song. “Videos are, to me, the least thing I like to do of the
whole business,” McGraw admits. “I think it’s the ‘hurry up and wait’ part. We’ll do one or two for the album … This first single, I just
felt like I couldn’t do anything out of the ordinary [with a video]. I felt like it was a song that people had a lot of situations in their lives that they could apply that song to.”
Working with producers Byron Gallimore and James Stroud, McGraw once again has delivered an album of solid material. The songs run the gamut, from the wistful opener “Cowboy in Me” to the thought-provoking title tune about assessing priorities to the emotional
ballad “Angry All the Time,” which features vocals from Hill. McGraw admits that the latter song is totally different from their previous
Hill discovered the Bruce Robison-penned tune when she saw one of his videos and had wanted to cut the song on her next album, but McGraw beat her to it. The couple performed the song on their Soul 2 Soul tour. “We went to the end of the stage, sitting in old chairs with just little spotlights on us,” he says. “The whole stage was black, and I played acoustic guitar. That was it — me and the acoustic guitar and her singing harmony. Then we had a cool video going
behind us, sort of a lonely video. This is a great song, and we fell in love with it, doing it night after night. We thought it was cool for us to do a song like that since we’ve never done one in that direction.”
McGraw explores a variety of musical territory on this record, saying he wanted to “make a real Americana kind of record, something that felt grassroots, a lot of different kinds of music, which is what I grew up listening to. I can do any kind of track, but when I sing, it’s going to be country. That’s just the way I sing, but I’m a [Bruce] Springsteen fan, a Little River Band fan, a Merle Haggard fan, a Keith Whitley fan, a George Strait fan. I just wanted to go in and make a record that was me and my influences.”
McGraw is thrilled that Set This Circus Down is finally coming out. He had the album ready last winter and wanted Curb Records to
release it during the busy fourth-quarter buying season. Instead, they released a greatest hits package, and McGraw made his
displeasure known at last year’s Country Music Association awards show, charging the label with “money being the bottom line
instead of artistic integrity.”
On the eve of the new album’s release, all parties seemed to have reached something of a truce. “Our priorities aren’t the same,” he
says. “I’ll do my job and they’ll do their job, and we’ll go on down the merry highway, but they’ve always sold my records and got
them played. So as long as they continue to do that, we’ll be fine.”
Indeed, his relationship with Curb is among the industry’s most lucrative, albeit somewhat terse. His last five albums have debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart and spent multiple weeks at the summit. Not a Moment Too Soon, which spawned his breakthrough hit “Indian Outlaw,” spent 29 weeks at No. 1 in 1994 and also logged two weeks at the peak of the Top 200 album chart. A Place in the Sun bowed at No. 1 simultaneously on both charts in 1999.
McGraw has settled into the equally demanding roles of country music superstar, husband and father to three-year-old Gracie and two-year-old Maggie. In doing so, he’s become comfortable in his own skin, more specifically in his own hair. Promotional photos for his new album will feature McGraw without his trademark black cowboy hat. “I’m 33 now,” he says. “When I first got my record deal I was 23, and when you’re losing your hair at 23, it’s a lot bigger deal than when you are 33. Now it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I liked having the hat on so I could hide behind it … I felt like I was
naked. I kind of feel like I had a curtain there. It’s a crutch, I guess.”
Fans will get an opportunity to hear McGraw’s new songs this summer as he once again hits the road with pal Kenny Chesney, his partner in crime — literally — in the now-infamous cops-and-horse incident in Buffalo. “I just have to keep Kenny straight out there,”
McGraw laughs, “and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.”