It’s not like Tim McGraw is a spring chicken at 48-years-old, and it’s not like his records are selling especially well these days. His latest release Damn Country Music only sold 39,000 copies its debut week, and has yet to crest the 100,000 mark. 2014’s Sundown Heaven Town may never go gold for him.
But Tim McGraw is one of the last remaining artists who can release what he wants to radio, including music that actually says something and is fit for consumption by fully maturated adults, and it somehow finds not just a semblance of traction and acceptance, but downright success. Blame Tim McGraw’s cozy relationship with country radio over the years, or Big Machine’s war chest for radio promotion. Either way, the sinewy country star is like the chaperon for country music’s youth movement, and symbolizes one of the last vestiges of meaningful music on corporate country radio, however adult contemporary it may feel.
It’s pretty remarkable. Sundown Heaven Town resulted in three Top 3 radio singles in “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” “Shotgun Rider,” and “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.” And each one of them was one of the best things on radio during their reign. “Lookin’ For That Girl” was supposed to be the big blockbuster single, and it was the one that stalled.
Taking that data to heart, Tim McGraw has determined that the second single from Damn Country Music will be the incredibly mature “Humble and Kind.” Think about this for a second: in the era of songwriting-by-committee, “Humble and Kind” was written by 48-year-old songwriter Lori McKenna all by herself. A song like “Humble and Kind” is supposed to be the final song on the album for those with enough patience to make it that far, not the second single from record.
This move is surprising, just like the quality of Sundown Heaven Town and Damn Country Music was surprising. And I would bet dollars to donuts “Humble and Kind” ends up being another successful radio move. A video for the song released first to Facebook has already racked up millions of views (a more common move these days to help drive metadata stats). Yes, the video is sappy. Apparently Oprah Winfrey had some involvement in it, and McGraw has always been too enamored with his own silhouette when he’s sporting his plastic cowboy hat. But all of that is beside the point.
When I first heard “Humble and Kind,” I immediately thought of Don Williams. In the fast-paced environment today’s world, the music of Don Williams is like a compass to guide you to appreciating the value of slowing down and taking life in, and that’s what “Humble and Kind” does. Sure it’s quite dry, and maybe even kind of preachy. But “Humble and Kind” is full of lessons we all know, but must be reminded of on a daily basis in these turbo-charged times. And it tends to fall to the artists of an era to teach them.
Tim McGraw has made plenty of money, and enjoyed more than his fair share of success in his career. He doesn’t need anything else from the music to either validate his existence, or financially support his family for the future. But what Tim McGraw understands is that reaching millions through the power of country music comes with a responsibility. And not only is he willing to shoulder that responsibility, he’s committed to seeing it be effective.