Tim McGraw

Sundown Heaven Town

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There's no question Tim McGraw seized upon the opportunity to indulge his every whim when he finally extricated himself from Curb and signed with Big Machine in 2013, the year where Two Lanes of Freedom revived his career. His renaissance continues with 2014's Sundown Heaven Town, his second album for Big Machine and a record that often plays like a direct sequel to its predecessor in that it's designed to show off everything McGraw and his longtime collaborator/producer Byron Gallimore can do. Being that this follows a record where the big hit was a ballad -- the haunting "Highway Don't Care," a duet with Taylor Swift -- it's not entirely a surprise that Sundown Heaven Town is distinguished by its smooth touch but within that gloss. Sure, McGraw never goes for a brawny rocker -- when Kid Rock stops by for a duet on the deluxe, it's for an easy-rolling, sunny ballad called "Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs" -- and the quickest pace is reserved for glistening midtempo pop like "City Lights," but this record never seems to drag, not even in its longer 18-track incarnation, because McGraw and Gallimore are masters at pacing, something that is evident on individual songs as it is on the album as a whole. McGraw knows when to shift away from the spacious arena-country of "Shotgun Rider" to the light electronic accents of "Dust," then to glide into the modernized southern soul of "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools" or when to get delicate, as he does on the sentimental (but not sappy) "Meanwhile Back at Mama's." This versatility isn't showy, which is a large part of McGraw's charm: he has an easy touch that not only warms the sheen of his gloss, it hides the meticulousness of his craft. He's wound up making records that are the new millennial equivalent of classic soft rock, records informed by the trends of the day but which place emphasis on melody and craft, which is why they resonate: they come on smooth and easy but have the foundation to last.

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