CD REVIEW - 2007

"I'll grab my old guitar/ I'll take a pencil from a jar/ open up a bottle of 90 proof and write a song for you/ like Kristofferson would do." - Kristofferson - Anthony Smith- Reed Nielsen.

When Taylor Swift scored her debut hit at 17 with her single Tim McGraw she struck a familiar chord and continued that time honoured tradition of name checking heroes and heroines.

The schoolgirl from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, soared to fame when her music was streamed more than 14 million times on My Space and Tim McGraw sold more than 500,000 digital downloads.

The song also became the CMT breakthrough video of the year.

Now McGraw, 40, has joined the song name game by including a new song called Kristofferson on his 11th album.

McGraw didn't write the song - it came from the pens of prolific writers Anthony Smith and Reid Nielsen.

Tim and co-producers Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith, also leader of his studio-road band The Dance Hall Doctors, have a knack of picking hits from grateful peers.

Ironically, the song that breaks the country pop mould here on his 11th album is Train #10 that McGraw wrote with Warren Brothers Brad & Brett who played a low key gig at the Continental Café on their Australian promo tour in the nineties.

It chugs along with a driving rock rhythm and becomes refreshing roughage.

McGraw said he writes plenty of songs but doesn't like most of them enough to record.

"Every now and then something comes up that I co-wrote that I really like," he said.

"I think the older I get as an artist, there are more avenues I want to explore."

Last year, for the first time, he released a song he co-wrote, My Little Girl, - from the soundtrack of his movie, Flicka.

The movie soundtrack has been released on Style Sonic - a label created by McGraw and Gallimore.


That label also features singer-songwriter Lori McKenna who wrote the new McGraw tune I'm Working with bluegrass artist Darrell Scott - writer of some Dixie Chicks' hits.

McGraw opted for Big Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich to provide his first hit single Last Dollar (Fly Away).

McGraw and Gallimore also chose a little nepotism with their offspring - daughters - singing on the final chorus.

"You know, Big Kenny wrote it, and when Big Kenny gave me the CD of it and I was listening to it over and over and over," McGraw revealed.

"The girls were just singing it every time they heard it. They'd tell me to play the demo. I think they liked Big Kenny better than they do me. But I just thought it was cute, and they did a great job on it."

And, of course, McGraw's singing spouse Faith Hill - mother of three of those divas - also duets on the obligatory love ballad I Need You - penned by David Lee and Tony Lane.

McGraw mixes booze on Whiskey And You, death on Nothin' To Die For, ruptured romance and other country staples on a disc that also has an Australian connection in its finale - Shotgun Rider.


One of three co-writers is Australian born singer Sherrie Austin who was also known here in her homeland as actress Sherry Kren who opened for Slim Dusty as a 12 year old while living in Townsville.

The Tasmanian born singer also appeared as a teenager with Jason Donovan in the mini series Shadows Of The Heart.

In more recent time she impressed New York critics in her starring role in a limited run of stage show The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde.

Her last album was Streets of Heaven in 2003.

This Shotgun Rider is not the same song as the Johnny Slate-Larry Henley-Jim Hurt tune that was recorded by singing actor Joe Sun in 1979 and a year later by veteran Texan Delbert McClinton.

The melody is highly reminiscent of the Ed and Patsy Bruce song Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys - an historic hit for Waylon & Willie.

But McGraw does include his own take of Suspicions - the song the late Eddie Rabbit topped charts with in the eighties.

Rabbit wrote it with his producers David Malloy and Even Stevens and writer Randy McCormick.

McGraw also adds to the publishing royalties of The Warrens and Dierks Bentley's producer Brett Beavers by including their tune Between The River And Me.

Beavers is also Nashville producer of the belated third album by expatriate Australian Catherine Britt.



"I'm reading street slang for dummies/ cause they put pop in my country/ I want more for my money, the way it was back then." - Back When - Jeff Stevens-Stephony Smith - Stan Lynch.

Life has long imitated art for superstar couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Their huge success earned them and peers a lucrative by-product - movie and TV roles.

Hill, 37, landed a part with Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close in The Stepford Wives and McGraw joined little mate Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights that debuts this month.

It's based on the H.G. Bissinger book about the true story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers in Odessa, Texas.

Tim, also 37, plays Charlie Billingsley, an alcoholic former gridiron star abusive to his player son, Don.

McGraw's late father Tug was a baseball star who split with his wife before Tim was born.

"I didn't see it as difficult to play," McGraw says. "In fact, I thought it would be easier to play than any other character I could find. We all have that side to us, and I think it's fun to explore that side to yourself, and especially knowing people growing up that I had seen react in those ways at high school football games and baseball games. I thought that I could really put a face on it."

Tim also plays a sheriff in Black Cloud, written and directed by actor Rick Schroeder.

Such perks are no surprise in a nation where county music on the radio is a right not a privilege - the fate Australian artists suffer.

Slim Pickens, you could pun if you saw Shotgun Willie's bus driver in Honeysuckle Rose.

Although Tim is not a prolific writer he teamed with The Warrens for sessions on location in Connecticut with his singing spouse who swapped old wives' tales with Kidman.


None made McGraw's 16 track seventh album, Live Like You Were Dying (Sony).

But The Warrens, who once played the now defunct Continental Café, scored with Blank Sheet Of Paper.

McGraw's success, with 27 million albums sold, ensures hit writers including Texan troubadour Bruce Robison who played the Prahran venue with Kelly Willis - mother of their twins and elder son.

Robison, who penned McGraw hit Angry All the Time, and bluegrass buddy Darrell Scott penned ruptured romance requiem Old Town New - on a disc kick started by a Robert Johnson echo before Hank Jr style entrée How Bad Do You Want It.

McGraw's slick style may not be a patch on Bocephus but his radio friendly vocals ensured his first single - the title track - topped charts for six weeks.

So how did Tim and Faith choose the Tim Nicholls-Craig Wiseman tune?

McGraw says he stepped into the shower and Faith cranked the stereo, playing the demo three times in a row.

So when he stepped out of the shower, he told her Live Like You Were Dying would be the first single.

It's easy to see why - it's a stone country song about a man in his early forties who is diagnosed with a terminal illness making the most of life.

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing/ I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fumanchu."

A stark contrast to bi-polar pain of Kill Myself and domestic violence in Walk Like A Man.

McGraw covers many bases - Steve Bogard-Rick Giles' Can't Tell Me Nothin' finds a motor-bike wrecking narrator taking different forks in a road to salvation saga Drugs Or Jesus and Rodney Crowell's Open Season On My Heart.

Do You Want Fries With That is a deft touch on the new man taking everything - a sibling of Just Be Your Tear and maybe Everybody Hates Me.

With 16 songs are there criticisms?

Well, Back When is a shameless refry of Merle Haggard spoof When A Buck Was Still Silver.

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