mcgrawOn his eleventh studio album, Tim McGraw recaptures his own freedom as he experiments with a variety of sounds after switching to new record label Big Machine Records. For a man who’s been active in the country music scene for over 20 years, it’s impressive that he can continue to reinvent himself, mixing the classic country twang of years past with the heavier rock leanings of  today’s country music. “Truck Yeah,” the lead single off his new album Two Lanes to Freedom, has been doing well on the charts but the album shows more depth than this radio-friendly hit would lead one to believe.

A classic for country lovers will certainly be “Southern Girl,” which extols the virtues of females hailing from below the Mason-Dixon Line: Daytona, cutoff jeans and nights spent in backyard barns. The chorus is definitely catchy and reminds one of McGraw’s earlier songs, when he would sing about barbeque stains and real good men.

With each new element McGraw employs — heavy percussion, layered harmonies and the ridiculously fun-to-say didgeridoo — he continues to reach back to the heart of country music. A standout on the album is “Nashville Without You,” which features a skillful folk guitar driving the song as McGraw sings both an ode to a loved one and to the Music City herself, name-dropping classic country songs like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.”

The ballad on the album that will tug on your heartstrings is without a doubt “Number 37405,” which tells the story of a prison inmate looking back on his mistakes with love and regret for life’s lost opportunities. It’s a simple song with simple vocals, but its well-wrought lyrics render it powerful and forlorn. The only featured artists on the album are two of country’s biggest: Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. “Highway Don’t Care” tells the story of a couple on the verge of breaking up, and the McGraw/Swift pairing sounds particularly sweet and heartfelt,  knowing Swift’s first big break came with the song “Tim McGraw.” Urban, a master on guitar, adds depth to the vocals for a song which you can’t help but tap your foot along to.

“Mexicoma” is a song that will have you longing for a sun-drenched beach and a drink of your choice. The upbeat tempo has a feel-good vibe that evokes the musical styling of Mexico, even more so because of the use of some of the classic Mexican instruments.

The entire album takes some unexpected twists and turns but ultimately ends as a testament to the current state of country music – and a satisfying one, at that.

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