There's good reason for Tim McGraw's endurance at the top of contemporary country: he's a restless visionary who's worked hard to improve as an interpretive singer. In 2002, McGraw bucked the trend and convinced his label, and producers Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith, to let him use his road band in the studio. The rough and tumble intimacy of the set put it over the top and appealed to music fans outside his circle. On Live Like You Were Dying, McGraw ups the ante. Using the same production team and his Dancehall Doctors, McGraw cut a whopping 16 tracks and helped in the mixing of the record, as well as co-producing. The song selection runs the gamut. There's the blues-rock energy of the opener, "How Bad Do You Want It," where he evokes the ghost of the Mississippi Delta as well as the hard country-rock sounds of Marshall Tucker and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then there's the shimmering Americana of "My Old Friend" that would not be out of place performed by Pierce Pettis, and the fantastic "Old Town New," by renegade songwriters Bruce Robison and Darrell Scott. The monster single from this record, "Live Like You Were Dying," by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols, is the very best kind of modern country song; the emotion in McGraw's delivery is honest, not saccharine. In anyone else's voice, a song like "Drugs or Jesus" would be just plain bad. The tune itself is solid and beautifully constructed, a perfect marriage of melody, hook, and direct, simple lyrics. But the temptation to overperform such a song is irresistible to most of the hit factory's mainstays. Not for McGraw though: his understatement underscores the lyric's seriousness. The tenderness in Rodney Crowell and James T. Slater's "Open Season on My Heart" is vulnerable in all the right ways. The moody poignancy of "Walk Like a Man," is a fine and haunting centerpiece for this fine album. "Kill Myself" has to be experienced -- it's a miracle and a testament to McGraw's clout that this tune made it on to the record. "We Carry On" is a soulful anthem, gritty, true, and beautiful. It's a fitting close to McGraw's finest moment yet. The young hell-raiser has grown to be one of modern country's most compelling and multidimensional artists.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek