The title track of Tim McGraw's new album, "Live Like You're Dying," has been No. 1 on Billboard's country singles chart for six weeks. An inspiring song about fighting a life-threatening disease, it has touched a nerve with its optimism.
McGraw sings about a man who cherishes his remaining time and is able to declare: "I went sky-diving, went Rocky Mountain climbing . . . I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I've been denying . . . Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying."
McGraw, now 37 and well ensconced as a country superstar, has made the deepest, most philosophical music of his career on this CD, which is out today. But it's not all optimistic. There are searing songs about suicide, spousal abuse, and teen pregnancy. It will surely test some fans' patience, but it is a milestone album for McGraw, who, in his early days, was sometimes dismissed as a "hunk with a hat" when doing novelty songs such as "I Like It, I Love It."
He's now apparently loving the artistic freedom that his success has brought, though his new CD is not as consistent as hoped.
The first half is riveting, starting with a nod to the late bluesman Robert Johnson. ("He lived with his guitar and his devil took his soul," McGraw sings on "How Bad Do You Want It.") The second half has too many down-tempo, serious tracks that eschew dynamics and that become monotonous.
McGraw has made a great half-album, but he just couldn't finish the task. There are so many songs (16) that it's hard to expect all of them to resonate.
Still, the better numbers are quite fantastic. The song "Drugs or Jesus" is much more than just a honky-tonk tune. It's about smalltown life, where "for anybody who sticks around, you're either lost or you're found. . . . We follow the roads that lead us to drugs or Jesus."
That's provocative subject matter by today's often superficial country music standards. And another gem is the old-school country of "Do You Want Fries With That," which deals with the anger of a fast-food restaurant employee who serves a man now dating his ex-wife.
For clunkers, witness the sappy "Just Be Your Tear" and the suicide tune "Kill Myself," which is too maudlin for words.
Thankfully, the CD ends on at least a mild upswing with "Carry On," a string-laden ballad about a pregnant teen who is beaten by her boyfriend but who still finds a way to find hope. McGraw may not have created this album with overwhelming radio play in mind, but he clearly addresses issues that not all country singers dare approach.