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McGraw pumped for Two Lanes of Freedom Tour

TIM MCGRAW

With Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft

♦ 7 p.m. May 24

♦ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, 19100 S. Ridgeland Ave., Tinley Park

♦ Tickets, $30.25 for lawn, $30.25-$70 for second pavilion, $45-$70 for first pavilion and $70 for pit

♦ (800) 745-3000;
livenation.com

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Updated: June 25, 2013 6:11AM



NASHVILLE, TENN. — It’s no coincidence that Tim McGraw’s latest album opens and closes with highway songs.

“There’s a sense of acceleration on this record, a sense of freedom,” the country singer said of “Two Lanes of Freedom.”

“I feel energized, like I’m at the cusp of my career.”

Even though McGraw, 46, released his first album 20 years ago, “Two Lanes of Freedom” marks a new start.

It’s McGraw’s first album for Big Machine Records, recorded and released after years of disputes and legal wrangling with his previous label, Curb Records.

For once, the different parts of the singer’s life are firing on all cylinders.

He’s excited about his partnership with Big Machine; he’s been playing concerts in Las Vegas with his wife of 16 years, Faith Hill; and he’s nearly five years sober.

During a day spent in a photography studio, McGraw practically wears his newfound contentment and independence on the sleeve of his tight black shirt.

“I feel like I’m starting to figure out what it is that I do,” he said, sounding excited, almost playful.

“As an artist, I feel like I’ve grown more musically over the last year-and-a-half than I have in my entire career.”

With its wide-open melody and hair-in-the-breeze ambience, the title track from “Two Lanes of Freedom” was recorded during the first session for the album and sets the tone for the music that follows.

“It was a fist-pump song in the studio,” McGraw said.

“When we finished laying the track down, everyone knew that we had something really cool. It became the song we built everything around.”

McGraw teased his new music last summer with “Truck Yeah,” a single with heavy rock guitar riffs that coincided with a tour of stadiums with Kenny Chesney.

The track polarized some listeners, but “it completely achieved the goal of screaming, ‘New Tim McGraw song, new Tim McGraw album, new Tim McGraw energy,’ ” said Big Machine label head Scott Borchetta.

“We took that as a total success.”

The album offers plenty to get radio programmers revved up including the album-closing “Highway Don’t Care,” a duet with Taylor Swift that also features guitar work from Keith Urban.

When McGraw heard the song, he said he knew instantly that he wanted Swift, who launched her career in 2006 with a single called “Tim McGraw,” to sing the female part.

“It was perfect for us to sing together because it wasn’t this love-interest song from her point of view,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that.”

McGraw said he’s been looking for a way to get Urban on one of his records for a long time: “He’s one of the most talented guys we have in our genre.”

The emotional crux of the album, though, is “Book of John,” in which a son learns about his father’s life through a scrapbook he left behind.

“I don’t have a deep well of father-son relationship knowledge,” McGraw said.

He grew up with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather and didn’t get to know his biological father, major-league baseball pitcher Tug McGraw, until he was an adult.

Now, he’s the father of three daughters.

“That song really had an impact on me because of that. It was a way for me to explore that emotionally.

“Even now when I sing it, I don’t get all the way through it sometimes. If I let myself, I can really get too emotional in it.”

He said he doesn’t have anything like a “Book of Tug” but did inherit several keepsakes from his father, who died in 2004: his father’s ring and trophy from the 1980 World Series and a framed presentation of all of Tug’s baseball cards that now hangs in his house.

“We got to be friends, for sure, but I didn’t know him until later in life,” McGraw said. “We never really got close to each other.”

Continuing the story might not have been a possibility if McGraw hadn’t stopped drinking five years ago this May.

“I was probably a high-level, functioning drinker,” McGraw said. Occasionally, there was more than alcohol. “I had my moments where I experimented with things, but nothing crazy.”

In the past, McGraw would have been drinking when he went in the studio to record or took the stage for a concert.

“I always had at least a drink or two before I went on stage, and sometimes more,” he said.

“So there were times when I was drunk, for sure. When you’re sort of a rock star, I guess you feel like that’s part of the program.”

Byron Gallimore, who produced “Two Lanes of Freedom” and has worked on all 12 of McGraw’s studio albums, said the singer’s drinking never became an issue while recording.

“If Tim was that far along, he was able to hide it pretty well,” Gallimore said. “It didn’t affect the music, and it didn’t affect his performances.”

But McGraw said the drinking did affect his life, as well as his marriage to Hill.

“I think she got worried that I was going to keep going further and further down the wrong road,” he said.

Sobering up also allowed McGraw to be more engaged in his career, he said. And there’s a lot to engage with at the moment.

McGraw won’t discuss specifics of the 19 years he spent at Curb because some legal issues are still open.

And both he and Borchetta decline to specify his new contract’s duration — one of the sticking points with his previous label.

“It’s not long, I can tell you that,” McGraw said.

The Big Machine deal also gives McGraw ownership of his recordings, “which was very important to me.”

While the new contract covers a set number of albums, “it’s as long as he wants it to be,” Borchetta said.

“If he says he’s unhappy in a year, I don’t need an unhappy Tim McGraw. I’m having too much fun with the happy Tim McGraw.”

Gannett News Service

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For what you need to know about First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, check out blogs.southtownstar.com/fmba.



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