"Two Lanes of Freedom" is Tim McGraw's first album since he announced that he gave up alcohol five years ago. It's also his first record for Big Machine — appropriately, also Taylor Swift's home label, given her single "Tim McGraw" — and he looks hale and hearty in the album's accompanying videos.
It all signals a major new start for McGraw, one of pop-country's bestselling but critically assailed figures. If only the songs on "Two Lanes" were as honed and wiry as their singer. The album should keep him atop the country commercial firmament, but doesn't really advance him as an artist.
The record is brawnier than most of McGraw's catalog, with lead single "One of Those Nights" built on the rock guitar riffing that McGraw and Co. showcased on a recent stadium tour with Kenny Chesney. But the writing is as modern-country-boilerplate as it comes — an ode to drinking away a heartbreak in Mexico ("Mexicoma," a pun that borders on Nashville-factory camp), a paean to hillbilly life ("Truck Yeah") that's flagrant in its attempt to coin a party slogan.
"Highway Don't Care," McGraw's collaboration with Swift and Keith Urban, is a blowout of a send-off ballad, and we're glad McGraw beat his demons and is looking great. But it's a shame he didn't take the musical chances that can also mark a new beginning.