Where you wanna go? Tim McGraw asks with an urgent roll on the epic title-track of his new album, Two Lanes of Freedom. And judging by the song’s dramatic arrangement full of cascading harmonies, thundering percussion and exotic hint of didgeridoo, it seems as if Tim might really be asking himself that question as he proceeds to break free of any restraints on his new project due February 5.
Two Lanes of Freedom, Tim’s first album for Big Machine Records, is an 11-song set that builds on the progressive sounds of 2012’s Emotional Traffic. Working again with longtime producing partner Byron Gallimore (Martina McBride, Lauren Alaina), Tim experiments with new directions on the album that features a loose band willing to play with a strong groove. The current Top 10 single, “One of Those Nights,” uses percussive vocal rhythms in the vein of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” before heading into a hook-filled chorus. On the echoing, atmospheric “Friend of a Friend,” Tim’s voice holds, dips and bends through patently lonely turns. And holding true to the head-for-the-horizon theme, both songs come to epic conclusions full of flying guitar.
Two Lanes of Freedom keeps the epic arrangements up front on a first half full of freewheeling sounds. However, a shift begins with the feel-good track, “Southern Girl,” which plays like a country version of The Beach Boys classic, “California Girls.” Those southern girls, they talk nice and slow, Tim sings before listing out the virtues of those born south of the Mason Dixon line. The song’s modern, though subtle, hip-hop influence in between popping acoustic guitars and finger snaps creates a gentle setup for the much more obvious, “Club-Tonk” rocker, “Truck Yeah,” which opens with the line, Got Lil Wayne bumpin’ on my iPod. Yet, just when you think Tim might settle in on the dance floor, get ready for the downright beautiful, “Nashville Without You.”
Folk-inspired acoustic guitars, shuffling percussion and mandolin carry Tim’s smooth drawl though the album’s most clever song. “Nashville Without You” uses classic country references ranging from ‘The Man in Black’ to song titles like “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jolene” to expertly capture the history and spirit of Music City with an equally-effective miss-her-badly story line. It’s also the first of a back half loaded with finely-crafted and memorable songs.
The sad, piano-based ballad, “Number 37405,” and the descending, “Book of John,” offer some of the album’s most poignant songwriting. Both showcasing rich emotion, the former details the tough story of an inmate, where, the music from his radio is like freedom down a dirt road. On the latter, a family gathers around a father’s journal found after he passed. Pictures and stories come alive as Tim paints deep portraits of his characters. Even “Mexicoma,” a sun-drenched Riviera tune benefiting from a fun-loving delivery, capitalizes on its characters. She said, ‘Adios,’/So I said, ‘Hello, Don Julio, top-shelf, self-help remedy’, Tim sings with a bounce and a steady grin.
Taylor Swift and Keith Urban join on the album’s closing song, “Highway Don’t Care,” providing harmony vocals and some of Keith’s exquisite guitar leads. Images of stretched out pavement bring the album full circle, but they also serve as a reminder that this is a new beginning for Tim. The road will always go on, and for Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom is the start of the next ride. So, where you wanna go?
Key Tracks – “Nashville Without You,” “Mexicoma,” “Number 37405,” “Two Lanes and Freedom”