Country star Tim McGraw brings his Sundown Heaven tour to Blossom

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Tim McGraw performs at IHeartRadio Music Festival, Sept. 21, 2013 in Las Vegas, NV. (Al Powers/Powers Imagery/Invision /AP)

Tim McGraw certainly doesn’t look it, but he is a grizzled veteran country superstar.

The 47-year-old singer and actor, who is known for his deep voice, tight shirts and tighter jeans, has been making records and piling up the hit singles and accolades for more than two decades. He has managed to be both a bit of an outlier and a bedrock in the codified, unspoken rule-ridden world of country music.

For several years, McGraw — who will perform Sunday at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls — has recorded albums with his touring band, the Dancehall Doctors, rather than some of the talented Nashville studio musicians on a seemingly endless list. He is one of few publicly left-leaning country artists and now, following a protracted battle with his longtime record company Curb Records, McGraw is with Big Machine records where he released the not-too-subtle titled Two Lanes of Freedom last winter and has a new album, Sundown Heaven Town, lined up for a September release.

So far, three singles have been released from Sundown: the pop/country ballad Lookin’ for That Girl which mixes steel guitar lines with a mechanized beat and a near soul/pop melody, the quite traditional and acoustic driven Meanwhile Back at Mama’s featuring his wife and fellow veteran superstar Faith Hill on backing vocals and the midtempo contemporary country/rock tune City Lights.

Just as with many of the younger country stars who have followed in his wake, McGraw likes to mix in other genre flavors while still keeping it reasonably country.

“There’s a great mixture of music because I get bored pretty easily,” McGraw told the Arizona Republic last month.

“I certainly get bored with myself. I love to stretch myself and go down avenues. I maybe go a little further on this album with a few songs. But I love traditional music. So I always have a few traditional things and stuff that’s just right down the middle,” he said.

McGraw has already amassed so many hits that if he attempted to fill a set list with only Top 10 songs, he’d have to stretch the show to well over three hours. Nevertheless, the always creatively restless McGraw has been playing several songs from the new album in his current set list, apparently unworried about or perhaps even silently encouraging fans to post the live version of new songs on social media. If nothing else, playing new songs helps keep the shows interesting for McGraw and his band.

“People ask us, ‘What’s your favorite song to play live?’ And the answer’s always, ‘Whatever’s new,’ ” McGraw said to the Republic.

But as with most veteran artists (save maybe mercurial artists such as Bob Dylan or jam band mavens such as Phish whose fans expect variation and surprises in the set list), McGraw knows there are songs that must be in the set list if he and his cohorts want to make it out of the venue with their teeth and their fan base intact.

Expect chart-topping hits such as Where the Green Grass Grows, Live Like You Were Dying, I Like It I Love It, Red Rag Top and even the controversial Indian Outlaw to be set list staples alongside the three recent singles.

“We always refresh [old songs], add something a little bit different now and then to update. There are nights when you think, ‘Eh, I’ve gotta play this song again.’ But what keeps me going is knowing that that’s somebody out there’s favorite song,” he said to the Republic.

Besides the new label and new album, McGraw, long known as a hearty partier, also gave up drinking in 2008, and has since dropped 40 pounds off of his already svelte frame with the help of exercise and martial arts training.

“It was becoming too much of a habit, I was beginning to be too accepting of it,” he recently told the Rochester (N.Y) Democrat and Chronicle. “Too many drinks before going onstage, letting the party afterward linger too long. Plus, after you have kids, you need to start a platform to stand on when you start talking to them about things, and their own choices in life.”

McGraw is also continuing his acting career, which has included appearing in the hit movie The Blind Side, a funny turn as Vince Vaughn’s lunk-headed brother in Four Christmases and more recently 2010’s drama Country Strong and the coming-of-age film Dirty Girl. Next, McGraw will be seen in the upcoming Disney sci-fi film Tomorrowland alongside George Clooney and Britt Robertson.

McGraw and Faith Hill have been married for nearly two decades, no small feat for regular, nonfamous folks, but certainly impressive given that they are both longtime stars keeping most of their business to themselves in an invasive TMZ world. Last fall, rumors were bandied throughout social media that the couple, who had just finished a successful run of Soul2Soul shows at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, was on the verge of divorce.

Both stars denied the rumors with McGraw telling Yahoo.com: “Since the first week we were married, [those rumors] have been out. We don’t even think about it.”

Hill seemed a bit more annoyed by pop culture’s love of melodrama and desire to see famous couplings fail. “It’s perplexing,” she said in the same Yahoo.com interview.

“I don’t know why ‘happy’ can’t be a story.”

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.


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