My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Better Than I Used To Be’

Even if you’re not a Tim McGraw fan you’ll probably feel happy that a Nashville court has just set him free from his contract with Curb Records, at least pending a further hearing next summer. Feelings may be more mixed about the fact that, quite shamelessly, Curb has immediately released a new McGraw single, apparently in an attempt to wring the last possible drop of profit from their almost-20-year involvement with his career. It remains to be seen whether they will actually try to push this seriously at radio – or indeed release McGraw’s shelved Emotional Traffic album from which this presumably comes.

The song is a very good one, written by Brian Simpson and Ashley Gorley, and I was impressed by it when I first heard it last year, as the title track of Sammy Kershaw’s most recent album. The comparison is unfortunate, as Sammy Kershaw is far superior as a vocalist. Tim’s interpretation is broadly similar, with a thoughtful, subdued opening which works extremely well, although later on he lacks the tenderness and subtlety of the original.

The production is more effective than the rock-influenced sound of much of Tim’s last album, particularly the piano-led beginning but it compares even more unfavorably than the vocal does with Kershaw’s more scaled back version. The opening is very similar, but like the vocal it gets a little bombastic, with too much going on. Lyrically, the song’s message of regret for past behavior and determination to change is an interesting choice given the ongoing dispute between Tim and Curb.

If you missed Sammy Kershaw’s version, check that out first. But this is still a decent performance of an excellent song which deserved to be a hit last time around, and it’s a shame its reception is likely to be overshadowed by comment on the ethical behavior of Curb Records.

Grade: B

Listen here.

Check out Sammy Kershaw’s version:

10 responses to “Single Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Better Than I Used To Be’

  1. Ken Johnson December 2, 2011 at 10:14 am

    “…It remains to be seen whether they will actually try to push this seriously at radio…..”

    Curb would not have bothered releasing this as a single unless they seriously intended to seek significant airplay. A great deal of $$$$ is involved in releasing a single. An artist of Tim’s stature guarantees that a significant number of radio stations will automatically play the song right away. Of course listeners will ultimately determine if this song is indeed a hit.

    Curb never would allow their “cash cow” to escape without milking every last dime. Curb will most certainly continue to mine Tim’s catalog with reissues, repackages and perhaps even issuing more singles in the years ahead. This is unless Tim’s contract gives him control of his master recordings which is probably unlikely in this case.

    • luckyoldsun December 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

      I think you may be overlooking a couple of things.

      As far as years ahead, I think it would be impossible in this day and age to release singles from an artist without his backing. It’s not like in the day when George Jones would release 10 singles in a year and who would notice if his old label threw a few into the mix.
      Even if Curb could legally get away with it, I don’t think they would have any luck pushing years-old recordings to compete with McGraw’s new stuff, especially when he’d be out there actually performing the new material.

      As far as the new single, “Better Than I Used to Be.” You could be right, but it seems more likely that when push comes to shove, Curb will put it’s high-powered promotional efforts into boosting a record by an artist that it has under contract, rather than by the one who’s out the door.

      • Ken Johnson December 2, 2011 at 11:46 pm

        If Curb chooses to issue unreleased recordings how would you know how old they are? Unless the music or lyrics sounded dated you probably could not tell. If those songs were recorded within the past few years they would be sonically comparable to brand new material. Hardcore fans don’t care if a song is actually a few years old. They only care that it’s a good song. Further most McGraw fans would likely welcome unreleased vault material as well.

        Remember that record companies only want to sell product. Even though McGraw has left the label Curb still wants to wring out every dollar possible while they still can. They will surely promote this release as actively as they have all previous McGraw releases to achieve the maximum amount of airplay and profit. Trust me, Curb doesn’t care that he’s “out the door” as long as their cash register is ringing. Curb does not currently have another artist of McGraw’s stature in their stable.

        • luckyoldsun December 3, 2011 at 10:50 pm

          What I find amusing is that Curb’s basis for rejecting McGraw’s album is that it was several months old and therefore not topical and not properly saleable. I think we can all acknowledge that that’s a completely phony pretext. But it would therefore be really funny if they tried to release years-old recordings as singles.

          Maybe someone in the business could tell me otherwise, but I have my doubts that in the world of today a record label could get away with releasing singles fron an artist after he’s left and has a new deal and is putting out new singles.

          In any event, artists promote singles now either with videos or by performing the song in public. In today’s environment, with singles lasting on the chart for 20-plus weeks, I seriously doubt that if McGraw is actively promoting a single with a video and appearing of the “Today” show and “Leno” of “Letterman” and doing interviews with DJ’s, that radio would make room for a competing Curb single that McGraw opposed and did not promote.

          Maybe this new single of McGraw’s will be a smash. I like Sammy Kershaw’s version better, but I don’t claim that the market shares my tastes. It’s such a struggle for even superstar artists to get a number 1 record today, that if radio consultants tell McGraw that this record looks like it could be really big, I don’t see why he wouldn’t work with Curb to push to the top.

        • Razor X December 4, 2011 at 9:05 am

          Curb’s motives seem very clear, as Ken pointed out. However it is the exact opposite strategy that we usually see when an artist leaves a label these days. How many times have we seen labels fail to promote end of contract albums and singles because they no longer have a llng term interest in promotingthe artist’s career? Perhaps the lack of any other superstars onthe Curb roster is the key difference here.

        • luckyoldsun December 4, 2011 at 11:07 am

          l went Curb’s website and looked at their Artists roster. Among the ones in the country area that I’ve heard of, they list the Bellamy Brothers, the Gatlin Brothers, B.J. Thomas, Jo Dee Messina and Ronny McDowell.

          So you may have a point there.

          Anyway, if this single goes top-5, I think Curb’s legal argument for rejecting the album is pretty much out the window.

  2. luckyoldsun December 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I just listened to McGraw’s record.
    Funny, I don’t know if it’s just me, but Tim seems to be immitating Sammy Kershaw in this record!
    His voice sounds deeper and more resonant than usual. I’m not even sure I would have been able to tell that it was McGraw if I didn’t know it already.

    This one should have been a hit for Sammy.

  3. Ben Foster December 2, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I agree that Kershaw’s version is better, though this version is okay. At least Tim didn’t totally ruin it, as it is a very good song. I agree with the ‘B’ grade, though I should probably listen to this a little more to fully collect my thoughts on it. It’s a shame Kershaw was so far off of country radio’s radar that his version stood little chance of becoming a hit.

    I wonder what Tim’s reaction is/ will be to the release? I would think he would be displeased.

  4. Jacqueline A Lewis December 3, 2011 at 11:07 am

    I love Tim version better, and hope song get to # 1. You go Tim, you rock.

  5. Pingback: Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Emotional Traffic’ « My Kind Of Country

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