Album Review: Tim McGraw – Southern Voice
Recorded 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.
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