Tim McGraw pulled a Waylon Jennings on his latest album — he insisted on using his own band instead of the usual A-list Nashville studio musicians. In fact, McGraw packed up members of the Dancehall Doctors, audio engineers, instrument technicians, a truckload of equipment and producer Byron Gallimore and shipped them all off to Allaire Studios, an out-of-the way recording complex in upstate New York.
“It wasn’t absolutely what you’d expect it to be if you were gonna go try to cut a ‘state-of-the-art’ record,” McGraw told CMT News. “But it had such a great vibe and the essentials of what we needed. It had like 15 bedrooms and it was just really, really fun. It was like [the hotel in] The Shining, I guess, the way the house looked.”
McGraw said he and his management company had originally scouted Ireland, Italy and France for hideaway studios before finding Allaire in the Catskill Mountains. He and the band spent six weeks in a Nashville rehearsal hall working on the songs before recording a note. At Allaire, they spent the time away from family, friends and music business types to craft the album the way they wanted — without any distractions from the outside.
“I didn’t want to be in the studio in Nashville with these guys feeling like they were under this enormous amount of pressure or that they were under this microscope of everybody in town knowing that I’m cutting [a record] with the band,” McGraw said. “And what happened there was exactly what we needed. It was magic up there.”
McGraw said he has always wanted to record with his longtime members of the Dancehall Doctors — guitarist Darran Smith, bassist John Marcus, acoustic guitarist Bob Minner, keyboardist Jeff McMahon, fiddle player Dean Brown, steel guitarist Denny Hemingson, drummer Billy Mason and percussionist David Dunkley. Many of the members have been “Doctors” for more than a decade. McGraw wanted to capture the energy the ensemble has generated onstage over the years but says he never had the time to devote to the project until this year.
“I think it’s the most honest that I’ve ever sang, and I think that came from how honestly the band played,” McGraw said.
The result is the just-released Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, the singer’s eighth album for Curb Records. McGraw co-produced the project with longtime producer Gallimore and bandleader Smith. The 15-cut collection pays tribute to his love of ‘70s rock with tunes like “Illegal,” “Sing Me Home” and his straight-forward take on Sir Elton John’s classic “Tiny Dancer” — a song McGraw used to open his 2001 tour.
“At the Andre Agassi Foundation banquet, I got to sing that with Elton John in front of all these people,” the singer remembered. “Faith has a picture of me up there grinning from ear to ear.”
McGraw isn’t ashamed to admit his rock influences and even enlisted the harmony vocals of Kim Carnes and the Eagles’ Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit for the new album. He also tapped the songwriting talents of the Warren Brothers , his friends and former opening act, who teamed with Danny Tate to write the rally cry against political correctness titled “Who Are They.” But McGraw hasn’t forsaken his die-hard country fans. For them, he offers the fiddle-laden “Home” and “Real Good Man” — songs that stick a little closer to the sounds on his previous albums.
Fitting in nicely between the straight-out rockers and country romps are several slower tracks, including the mellow “Watch the Wind Blow By” and the stripped-down “All We Ever Find” — which McGraw says is his wife’s favorite.
“The first time I heard that song I was in the kitchen and we were cooking tacos or something,” McGraw said. “I had the headphones on, and I made Faith listen to it. She loved it right away.”
Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors has already produced the Top 10 hit “Red Ragtop” and a new music video for “She’s My Kind of Rain.” The video was shot on location in London in October and made its world debut Nov. 22 on CMT. McGraw has also been working on stage concepts for his 2003 tour. His last full-blown headlining gig in 2001 with opening acts Kenny Chesney and Mark Collie was the highest-grossing country tour of the year. The competitive singer admits he’d like to top it with his new outing but not necessarily in the ways critics and fans might expect.
“We want it to sound better than it did last time, and we want it to be cooler than it was last time, and cooler may not mean more bells and whistles” McGraw said. “It may be simpler, slower, whatever. If it fits the music and the set list and the way I want to present it, then that’s how we try to top it.”