Country superstar and actor Tim McGraw ended his contentious relationship with his label, Curb Records, when a court in November ruled he could exit his nearly 20-year contract after Tuesday's long-delayed release of "Emotional Traffic," his 11th studio album and his last for the Music Row cornerstone. So let's finally go to the chopper for the "Traffic" report: These 12 tracks are pretty congested, but things definitely keep moving and there aren't many accidents.
The single "Felt Good on My Lips" hit the charts late in 2010, but it's still indicative of the whole album -- pure pop, with only McGraw's faint twang and commercial clout dictating that these tracks belong anywhere near the country bins.
I never think I'm a country purist until I listen to someone like McGraw. Many of these tracks, plucked from the Nashville songwriters cabinet, would sound remarkably similar if instead placed with Kelly Clarkson (moody opener "Halo" is just her kinda chorus) or Train (the passion-by-numbers of "I Will Not Fall Down"). An occasional steel guitar buried deep in the mix and the aw-shucks, wink-wink wit of "Touchdown Jesus" (uh-oh, I predict Tebowing during the encore this summer with Kenny Chesney at Soldier Field) accessorize the tracks to pass muster at the opry, but barely.
A few of his crossovers really soar, though, including the flirty "Right Back Atcha Babe" (featuring wonderfully breezy soft-rock flourishes from guitarist Jerry McPherson) and, surprisingly, his plaintive duet with another R&B singer, Ne-Yo this time, on "Only Human." McGraw's 44, but he's pushing 50 singles on the country chart. The songs on "Emotional Traffic" are professionally programmed with precise GPS directions toward that destination.