My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Catherine Dunn

Single Review – Tim McGraw feat. Catherine Dunn – ‘Diamond Rings and Old Barstools’

ad2One thing is certain about Tim McGraw. From the inception of his career twenty-two years ago, he’s had to fight his way through a cloud of exaggerated self-parody to prove he’s a substantive artist with enough credibility to be taken seriously. He hit his creative peak at the turn of the century, before falling off the wagon in the late Oughts. Who could blame a guy for wanting to stay relevant?

This decade has already seen McGraw scream for that relevancy on multiple occasions with helpless pleas drenched in desperation. With it finally out of system, the only thing left for McGraw to do is be himself again. That return to form resulted in an elegant top five followed by a four-week number one. The latter hit was McGraw’s biggest single in ten years.

He now aims to recapture the traditional country market, a risky move, with the four singles from Sundown Heaven Town, “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that wail you hear in the background is a steel guitar. The harmony vocal? Well, that’s none other than rising country star Catherine Dunn, who also happens to be McGraw’s cousin.

But it’s 2015, after all. So one cannot get too traditional or they risk clunking to the bottom of the Americana remainder bin. That’s why clunky electric guitars overwhelm the track, sucking out any real enjoyment. It’s also why the much-touted harmony vocal by Dunn is barely audible. Emphasize her too much and she might actually get decent exposure.

Unfortunately those grips are nothing compared to the lyric, which plays on the premise of good versus evil without being clever or excitingly original. The chorus is fantastic, with the story’s main couple finally admitting to themselves they’re not good for each other. It’s just the verses say so little, and are such a waste of opportunity, the whole thing is rendered blah.

I was excited when “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” was released, as I thought I remembered it being a great song. When reviewing the album, I thought it had too much gruffness to it, a point I still stand by. If the verses were stronger and the whole thing far softer, this could actually be a home run. The bones are there, if you’re willing to dig through the clutter to find them.

Grade: B-

Listen

 

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Sundown Heaven Town’

Sundown_heaven_townTim McGraw got off to as bad a start as any could ever dream of when introducing his thirteenth album to the world this past winter. The first single, Mark Irwin, James T. Slater, and Chris Tompkins’ “Lookin’ For That Girl” was a smooth hip/hop meets R&B ballad with McGraw desperately pleading for relevance by pandering to trends in order to score airplay. Then came the album’s title, Sundown Heaven Town, which carries with it racial connotations so horrid, everyone in McGraw’s camp should’ve known better and avoided completely unnecessary controversy.

By the time “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” dropped this spring, McGraw needed the course correction the single ultimately gave him. The elegantly sparse ballad, co-written by Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnson, and Jeffery Steele, is McGraw’s finest single in seven years thanks to an assist from Faith Hill and a charming tale about home. McGraw and Hill are deservedly vying for both Single and Musical Event of the Year at the upcoming CMA Awards.

Just this month Big Machine released the third single from the album, a Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey, and Troy Verges penned tune entitled “Shotgun Rider.” The track, while it sounds good with a shuffle beat, is middle of the road at best and hardly memorable. The problem is keen McGraw fans will remember a different tune with the same name appearing on his Let It Go album in 2007. That “Shotgun Rider,” a duet with Hill, was far more country and less wordy than this tune.

McGraw treated fans to another of the album’s tracks, Canadian country singer/songwriter Deric Ruttan’s “City Lights” when he performed on The Voice this spring. The track is excellent, and while louder, recalls the best of his 90s/00s work. Also classic McGraw is “Overrated,” a sonically progressive muscular ballad penned by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Rivers Rutherford. The chorus is strong and memorable and he gives a nicely commanding performance reminiscent of “Unbroken” from 2001. Big Machine would be smart to release this as a single.

Newcomer Catherine Dunn, who also happens to be McGraw’s cousin, joins him on “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools,” a pure country album highlight that has a bit too much electric guitar, but adds a nice helping of steel about halfway through. While she’s regulated to singing harmony, Dunn adds a nice texture to the track that helps balance McGraw’s gruffness. It’s just weird to me he isn’t singing with Hill, who also would’ve been perfect here.

I also like “Words are Medicine,” a good pop-country number that I might’ve loved had someone like Jennifer Nettles sang it. As it is McGraw does well with it, but his vocal lacks a subtly a better song interpreter would’ve brought to it. “Last Turn Home” is just too loud and McGraw gives an annoying vocal performance on it, which is unfortunate.

“Portland, Maine” finds McGraw with a smoothed processed vocal that does little to give him any credibility. The lyric, by Abe Stoklasa and Donovan Woods, is idiotic, with the laughable hook of “Portland, Maine I don’t know where that is.” The track is ripe for parody and completely beneath McGraw’s talents. “Still On The Line” isn’t any better, with an arrangement that leans far too pop for my tastes.

Also terrible is “Dust,” an embarrassing slice of bro-country dreck unsurprisingly co-written by two-thirds of the Peach Pickers. McGraw co-wrote “Keep On Truckin’” with The Warren Brothers and Bill Daly. Like most of the dreck in mainstream country music, it’s another laundry list number that spends a lot of time saying next to nothing. Andrew Dorff’s “Sick of Me” isn’t awful, but McGraw’s vocal is grating and the song’s structure is annoying.

A deluxe edition of Sundown Heaven Town gives the listener an additional five tracks. McGraw gives a tender vocal on the piano ballad turned overproduced social conscious track “Kids Today,” he turns the volume up to eleven on “I’m Feeling You,” mixes organic country with too much rock on “The View” and ventures into Lady Antebellum territory with “Black Jacket.” I wanted to love the Kid Rock assisted “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs,” but the lyric was embarrassingly juvenile and the production far too progressive for my tastes.

As a whole, Sundown Heaven Town is a mixed bag, with McGraw getting a few things right, but still taking a lot of wrong turns along the way. I was a rabid fan of his from 1996-2007, but as the trends in mainstream country have changed, and he along with them, I’ve lost interest. He’s nicely evened out with Sundown Heaven Town, though, with the McGraw of “Truck Yeah” thankfully not showing up here. While he does need a new, far less rockified sound, this is his best album since Let It Go, which is saying a lot these days.

Grade: B-