After a 19-year relationship, Tim McGraw and Curb Records are finally parting ways. The record label recently lost its bitter two-year legal battle with the country star, leaving Emotional Traffic the last McGraw album it will release. Unfortunately, the LP falls slightly short of the success that most fans expected.
The songs’ writers shoulder part of the blame for the album’s lackluster quality. Though McGraw, like most performers in the New Country genre, is known for not writing his songs, this lack of authenticity had not proven a problem on his previous works. In the case of Emotional Traffic, though, the tracks seem to have been chosen from the reject piles of singer-songwriters like the Warren Brothers and David Tolliver of Halfway to Hazard, who deemed them too tepid to release for themselves. “Right Back Atcha Babe” and “The One,” for example, are far too repetitive and uninspired to merit space on the LP of an artist as successful as McGraw; even the star’s versatile voice fails to completely salvage the poorly-written lyrics.
But even with such lapses in judgment, Traffic will not go down in history as a total flop. The first track, “Halo,” kicks off the album with a crying pedal steel guitar, which is oddly accompanied by an auto-tuned moan from McGraw. But the rest of the song makes up for such production gaffes, as the emotion in McGraw’s voice complements the track’s expert instrumentation. Some of the album’s more upbeat tracks, such as “Felt Good on My Lips,” also maintain a good synthesis between lyrics and music. Even “Only Human,” which features R&B singer Ne-Yo, surprisingly does not disappoint—the two voices, accompanied by a Telecaster and a steel guitar, function well together on this inspirational track that rounds off the album on a good note.
While McGraw does not quite tell the truth with the title of the track “I’m Better than I Used to Be,” Traffic maintains a number of redeeming qualities and memorable songs. Some prompt listeners to reach for the “skip” button—or, if they’re country purists, to reach for their pitchforks—but the LP improves track by track, and is certainly worth a listen.
Voice’s Choices: “One Part Two Part,” “Only Human”