The grass is always greener, isn’t it? Until you get over there and start munching on it, and find out it 7-year-old Astroturf that the feral cats in the area have been using as a toilet. I’ve got no inside scoop on why Tim McGraw and Sony Nashville have decided to part ways, or who specifically made the decision to cut ties, but I remain stupefied as to why McGraw left Big Machine Records in the first place back in 2017. After Mike Curb of Curb Records did his level best to destroy Tim McGraw’s career by not allowing him to release new music, and instead put out nearly a dozen different Greatest Hits collections to keep him on the label indefinitely, McGraw moved on to Scott Borchetta’s outfit, and enjoyed an incredible career resurgence.
There was a lot of symbolism in McGraw moving to Big Machine after his lengthy battle with Curb where he’d been for the entirety of his career up to that point. McGraw and Big Machine CEO Scott Borchetta signed their deal in 2012 at Nashville’s Greyhound bus station to represent a new beginning. Tim had arrived as a young man from Louisiana with a suitcase and guitar 20 years before at that same station. One of the first people in the music business McGraw met in Nashville was Scott Borchetta’s father, Mike. Mike Borchetta was the man responsible for signing Tim McGraw to Curb Records in 1993.
Tim McGraw’s first Big Machine album Two Lanes of Freedom was Certified Gold. His next two albums on Big Machine have sold over 250,000 copies each. Tim McGraw saw four #1’s hits, and nine Top 5 singles on Big Machine, including “Humble and Kind,” which resulted in a win for the CMA Song of the Year, and a Grammy for Best Country Song. Not all 52-year-olds who started their careers nearly 30 years ago are enjoying the longevity that Tim McGraw is. He also used his time at Big Machine to double down on his country roots with 2014’s Sundown Heaven Town, and especially Damn Country Music in 2015.
But ever since Tim’s move to Sony, it’s seemed like a series of missteps. Perhaps the reason for the move is McGraw wanted to release a duets record with wife Faith Hill and go on a big tour, and Big Machine knew better. The Rest of Our Life album with Faith sold well and had a couple of decently-performing singles, but felt like McGraw was giving of his own career to try and restart Faith’s after her prolonged absence, and the whole thing had a very adult contemporary, couples night vibe to it.
Then there’s been the two singles released by McGraw on Sony Nashville as part of his solo career, where he officially moved from Arista Nashville to Columbia Nashville (both part of Sony). “Neon Church” was fine, if not a little overwrought, and rounded out its run on the charts at #20. The next single “Thought About You” sounded outright New Age, and stalled at #17. Nothing about these songs were offensive, but they weren’t exceptional either, and saw McGraw going away from the more rootsy sound of his previous few records.
Then Tim dropped the monstrosity on us that’s called “Way Down” with Shy Carter. A country rap disaster with lyrics that allude to oral sex, it might be the worst song released in the country music in 2020, and it’s still just February (read review). When Tim performed it before the College Football National Championship game, it was nearly universally panned by music and football fans alike.
Now Tim McGraw is a man without a label. Not that it will be hard for him to find one, but making the situation that much more awkward, he’s scheduled to embark on an arena tour on July 10th called “Here On Earth.” That also happens to be the name of the new Tim McGraw album, which some purchasers of online tickets have been promised they’ll receive a copy of come release time, but now McGraw doesn’t have a label lined up to release it.
Don’t worry, the album will be released, and we’ll likely hear about McGraw signing to a new label in a matter of days. Maybe it will even be Big Machine. Don’t count on it being Curb. But again the question is, why all the label musical chairs in the first place? Tim McGraw had it made. Now, it’s like he’s on a losing streak.
One of the reasons McGraw was able to weather the Mike Curb blackballing is because he decided to grow old with his music, focus on keeping his base of fans, and not go trend chasing. “Truck Yeah” was the one exception, yet it appeared he learned his lesson … until the godawful “Way Down.” Tim McGraw isn’t just looking for a label, he’s looking for a direction.
Dance with the ones that got you here, Tim. Country music’s trending more country these days anyway, partly due to the success of your output recently. Don’t go looking for greener pastures, because you might end up without a home.