Album Review: Tim McGraw – Southern Voice

Ken Morton, Jr. | October 20th, 2009

tim-mcgraw-southern-voiceRecorded in the fall of 2006 in the months following his step-father Horace’s passing, and suffering delay at the hands of Curb Record’s much maligned Greatest Hits Vol. 3, Southern Voice is filled with deep and weighty subjects like infidelity, death, regret and tragedy. It’s a deeper approach to song selection than on any previous McGraw album, as fluff like “Refried Dreams” and “I Like It, I Love It” makes way for redemption in song and a dark tone that underscores the collection.

Appropriately cut at a studio called Dark Horse outside of Franklin, Tennessee, the album was recorded with his road band, the Dancehall Doctors. McGraw employed this same practice on his 2002 album Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors in an effort to bring a looser and more earthy, “live” vibe to the album. It’s not the orchestration, however, that stands out on Southern Voice–it’s the well-chosen topics and the weightiness which McGraw brings to them. “Good Girls” is a captivating and stunningly sinister story song about double crossing best friends that shows that good girls are anything but (“Hell has no fury like a woman scored” indeed), while “You Had To Be There” is a fantastic moralistic tale of a father unforgiven for abandoning the teenager he got pregnant and the son he now talks with only through a glass jail wall. “I Love You, Goodbye” tackles that same familiar theme, albeit with a different outcome. It is an effective and emotional tale of parental struggle, loss and in this case, redemption.

Few of these stories are warm and fuzzy, but any could ripped from real life theater. Southern Voice thankfully leaves intact the harshness and rough edges that give the songs their bite. “I’m Only Jesus” talks of suicide, Russian roulette, and drug use–and is an example of the Dancehall Doctor’s influence, what with its Hendrix-like guitar solo to finish the track. There’s a debate of morality on “If I Died Today,” and even on some of the seemingly more lightweight fare, like “Mr. Whoever You Are” (a melancholy tale of a line worker who finds solace in her local bar by going home with whomever will dance with her), there’s an emotional twist that’s pretty for not being pretty.

Southern Voice‘s two notable wrong turns are, ironically, the first two singles sent to radio. “It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You” is cute throwaway of a song that is wordsmithing at its best (not too many songs can pull off a rhyme with Versace and Liberace), while current radio single and title track is the album’s weakest song, out of place on the album and little more than a rebel yell of every southern stereotype.

Perhaps the album’s recording was captured in a moment of time where McGraw’s song choices had him looking inward, taking inventory of life’s fragility and morality. Perhaps his cinematic work is giving him a new perspective on the power of good storytelling. Either way, Southern Voice delivers songs that make us question, react and most importantly, feel. It’s a new level of maturity and soberness that renders this one of McGraw’s most emotionally hefty releases.

3.5 Stars

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  1. Drew
    October 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I said the same thing on the forums… the first two single choices are far and away the worst things on the album. Aside from that, I like everything else, and really like a bunch of them. I’d give it a solid 4 stars.

  2. Leeann Ward
    October 20, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I have a question about the production. I couldn’t really get a feel for it from the clips, but it all sounded pretty bland from what I was hearing. Is that actually the case?

  3. Nicolas
    October 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    He recorded this album in 2006? How does that work, if Let It Go came out in 2007?

  4. Rick
    October 20, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Yet more proof its time for Timbo to throw in the towel on his music career and pursue politics and/or acting full time…

  5. Mike Wimmer
    October 20, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    It really is one of the best Country albums put out this year. Granted, it really isnt overly Country sounding, but it does have some great songs. “Live Like You Were Dieing” is Tim’s best album, but this is a close second and a nice jump back up from the mediocre “Let It Go”.

    Plus, hell, it’s nice to have at least one popular, Mainstream Country artist who isnt afraid to record albums with real life themes. Forget the “dark and gritty” talk, this album isnt dark and gritty, it’s just the damn truth. The songs on this album are far more realistic than bland, crappy love songs like “Only You Could Love Me This Way” which are cookie cutter and unrealistic.

  6. Steve Harvey
    October 20, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I’m quite taken with I’m Only Jesus and It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You. The rest of the record has yet to make much of an impression on me as of yet.

  7. Urban Country Blog
    October 20, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I am very impressed with this record and agree with the reviewer.

    Though, it was Tim’s stepfather Horace Smith who passed away in January 2006. Tug McGraw died in 2004.

  8. Joe
    October 20, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    This reviewer needs to get his facts straight…this wasn’t recorded in 2006 and Tug died in 2004…also, the single “Southern Voice” is a great tune! It’s racing up the Country charts, so I doubt Tim gives a crap about your thoughts on it!

  9. Jim Malec
    October 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks for the correction on the name. As for the recording date, I have asked Ken to respond that issue himself. I am sure he will do so at his earliest convenience. That aside, I do not believe these points (in whatever way they are resolved) undermine what is otherwise a well-reasoned review.

  10. Ken Morton, Jr.
    October 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    The recording date was pulled after doing some homework on just how long this album has sat on the shelf from a recent Reuters article/interview with McGraw- http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20091019/music_nm/us_mcgraw

  11. Mike Wimmer
    October 20, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    The more I listen to it, the more impressed I am with “If I Died Today” as well. Nicely written tune.

    I will say, while I wasnt impressed with the title track, I did like “It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You”. One of the few enjoyable uptempo tunes on Country radio these days.

  12. idlewildsouth
    October 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    I really like this album. I heard “You Had To Be There” at Dierks Bentely’s motorcylce ride last fall and loved it. I pretty much bought this album based on that one song, and it was a really good investment. It’s honestly the first one in a long time that I pretty much enjoy every song to some extent.

  13. Cybrus
    October 21, 2009 at 5:52 am

    Huge Tim McGraw fan here, so I’m sure my opinions are biased. But I think this CD was well worth the long wait. I really don’t see many radio hits on this CD, “Still” being the only one I can see getting good air play (aside from the two already released, of course). Maybe I’ll be surprised and Tim will score a few more #1 hits. Still a great CD, even without many jump out radio hits.

    The stand out tracks to me are “Ghost Town Train (She’s Gone)”, “Good Girls”, “I Didn’t Know It At The Time”, “I’m Only Jesus”, and “Forever Seventeen”. All the tracks are enjoyable, but these are the ones that I find myself wanting to listen to the most. :)

  14. idlewildsouth
    October 21, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Cybrus, I’d say the lack of jump out radio hits is precisely what makes this my favorite of his.

  15. Noeller
    October 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I didn’t hate Live Like You Were Dying as an album, but man – I thought it was common knowledge that “Everywhere” was far and away his best album??

  16. Cybrus
    October 21, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I think “Everywhere” was his first true album that reflected him as artist. Personally, I think “Set This Circus Down” is Tim’s best album, or at least it remains my favorite one from him.

  17. Brian
    October 21, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Love the new album! Favorite songs are Good Girls, Still, You Had to Be There, If I Die Today, Southern Voice and I’m only Jesus! It is one of his best… at the same time I absolutely love Set This Circus Down, DHD, Live Like You Were Dying, as well as Let It Go! Tim McGraw is by far the best artist in Country Music! Already talk of most of his next album being complete… can’t wait!

  18. Kris H
    October 22, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    I bought the new cd based SOLELY on this review, and I was not disappointed at all. “You had to be there” and “I didn’t know it at the time” are spectacular.

  19. Addie
    October 23, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I’m Only Jesus, If I Died Today, Good Girls, You Had To Be There and Love You, Goodbye are standouts to me. Mr. Whoever You Are touches deeply. This replaces Circus as my favorite. Real life, rings true. Not as dark and morbid as many reviewers are saying.

  20. Emgee
    October 24, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Definitely Tim’s best since Set This Circus Down, if not the best of his career.

  21. Derrik
    October 25, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    First off, i just want tyo say i am a huge Tim McGRaw fan. I believe that the first two singles from this album were the wrong choices, the first single is definetly my least favorite single Tim has ever put out. The album will probably not have many hits on the charts but all around it is an awesome album. I believe Set This Circus Down was his best album or at least it is my favorite. I give Southern Voice a solid 4/5 stars!

  22. Cybrus
    October 26, 2009 at 5:38 am

    I know this discussion is suppose to be about the “Southern Voice” CD, but I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that has long considered “Set This Circus Down” to be Tim’s best. “Live Like You Were Dying” seems to be the CD I see a lot of people cite as Tim’s best. LLYWD is a great CD and I listen to it often, but I have always thought STCD was better.

    Right now, I have Southern Voice in my car and listen to it start to finish as I’m driving. It’s my favorite CD right now. I haven’t taken the time to compare it to his previous CDs to see where it ranks, but I’m sure it’s in the top 5, maybe even top 3. :)

  23. Cheryl D.
    October 27, 2009 at 12:52 am

    “Southern Voice” is 100% A+ from the first song to the last song !.

  24. Justin
    November 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I’m also a huge Tim McGraw fan, but I believe his best album was “ALL I WANT”, best songs of his career. That being said, I have absolutly LOVED all of his albums, there isn’t a bad one! I also think “Let It Go” was a good transition from straight country tim to a more rocking tim.

  25. Erik
    November 16, 2009 at 11:48 am

    This album is horrible. Do not get me wrong I really do like McGraw and I waited for this one. I picked it up and I have to say the “word smithing” is awful. Who writes this crap? It is all written for a two year old, every song is the same platform and everything mashes together in one big steaming pile. Maybe there is a reason it sat since 06. If you can rhyme every word together and have songs with words no longer then four letters then you should go to Tim and write. Horrible. Here is a fine example of formatting:

    6 verses
    chorus
    6 verses
    chorus
    repeat chorus
    outro

    This is not music its made to sell. It will sell. To call this country is dreadful, to call it music is even more dreadful.

    I want my money back! I remember back when a hog was a hog and a coke was a coke and I remember paying 15 bucks for decent music.

  26. Kyle
    April 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Hmmm, this is kind of random but I just remembered where I’d heard the melody from “Forever Seventeen”‘s chorus before… it’s in the lift of a Ben Folds Five song called “Still Fighting It”. It’s almost note for note.

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