OFFSTAGE: Tim McGraw Previews New Music in Nashville

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

I had a great spot for Tim McGraw‘s private show Wednesday night (Oct. 31) in downtown Nashville. As in, I set my drink down by his mic stand. So I think it’s safe to say that I soaked up as much of his new music — and plenty of vintage material — standing that close for more than an hour.

McGraw was there to showcase the new music from his upcoming album, Two Lanes of Freedom, due out in February. But he devoted about half the show to the hits everyone already knew by heart. “For a Little While” from all the way back in 1998, “How Bad Do You Want It,” plus “Illegal,” “Everybody Hates Me,” “Felt Good on My Lips” and even “Something Like That.”

And when he started in on his 2002 hit “Red Rag Top,” he stopped for a couple of minutes to explain why he went ahead and made that song even though he knew it might not be welcomed with open arms.

“Every now and then, you run across songs that you know are not gonna be No. 1 records,” he said. “You know they’re not gonna be something that everybody plays. You know they’re not gonna be something that everybody gravitates to. But you know the song’s gonna touch people and you know the song’s gonna have meaning. You know that no matter what your station is in life and what you believe in life, you can relate to hardships and indecision and frustration.”

Most of his new tunes, like the title track and his next single “One of Those Nights” seem destined to eventually climb the charts rapidly. As will “Book of John” and “Mexicoma.” But the new one he did that he said he really loved — and I couldn’t agree more — was “Nashville Without You.” Crediting heroes like George Jones and Willie Nelson, the hook is “Nashville wouldn’t be Nashville without you.” It’s just so country.

McGraw brought R&B singer Ne-Yo to the stage for a couple of songs, too, for “Only Human” and “She Is.” Their vocals complemented each other well. But be he ever so humble, McGraw thought Ne-Yo was the better of the two singers. “I’d give my left nut to be able to sing like that,” he said.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.