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New album, label, tour give McGraw 'fresh energy'

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Tim McGraw gets the crowd going at The Brothers of the Sun Tour at Heinz Field on the North Side on Saturday evening, June 30, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
THE GREENROOM
Country artist Tim McGraw THE GREENROOM
THE GREENROOM
Country musician Tim McGraw
THE GREENROOM
Country musician Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw's 'Two Lanes of Freedom'
Tribune-Review
Tim McGraw gets the crowd going at The Brothers of the Sun Tour at Heinz Field on the North Side on Saturday evening, June 30, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Tim McGraw gets the crowd going at The Brothers of the Sun Tour at Heinz Field on the North Side on Saturday evening, June 30, 2012. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Tim McGraw gets the crowd going during The Brothers of the Sun Tour at Heinz Field in the North Side on June 30, 2012.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Tim McGraw revs up the crowd during the The Brothers of the Sun Tour at Heinz Field in the North Side on Saturday evening, June 30, 2012.
THE GREENROOM
Country musician Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw's new record label, new album and corresponding tour have him saying “Truck Yeah” with glee.

McGraw, who will perform May 18 at the First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown, released his 14th album to debut at No. 1 on Billboard Country Albums chart in February.

That album — “Two Lanes of Freedom,” his first with Big Machine Records — produced:

• McGraw's 33rd No. 1 song, “One of Those Nights”

• The Top 10 song “Truck Yeah”

• The No. 5 song “Highway Don't Care,” a duet with Taylor Swift featuring Keith Urban on the guitar

The new album, label and tour present McGraw with a rejuvenating change.

“There's a fresh energy, for sure,” McGraw says from his Nashville-area home. “Anytime you do something new, there's a fresh energy.

“Change is always good,” he says. “For me, it was refreshing; it was energizing. It shows up in music, and it shows up on tour.”

Plans for the album seemed to just fall into place “so organically,” McGraw says, particularly with Swift and Urban: “Highway Don't Care” seemed a perfect fit for Swift's voice, and McGraw always wanted to do something with Urban. Thanks to modern technology, Urban and Swift didn't even come to the studio where McGraw worked 12-hour days for two weeks. They recorded their parts separately, which producers dubbed into the song.

“As soon as I had the thought, I called Taylor and Keith, and they jumped right on board,” McGraw says. He will sing the duet at the concert, but how he incorporates the absent Urban and Swift will be a surprise.

McGraw — who since his '90s debut has produced big hits such as “Live Like You Were Dying,” “Just to See You Smile” and “I Like It, I Love It” — is continuing his charitable HomeFront program he started last year.

At each of the 31 tour stops, McGraw teams up with Chase Bank and Operation Homefront to provide a newly renovated, mortgage-free home to a deserving military veteran.

The recipient of the HomeFront house for the Pittsburgh-area concert is Army Sgt. John Marecki, 33, an Iraq veteran who has many family members in Carnegie. He is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., and will be moving to his new house within a few months with his two children. Although the home is in Penn Forest, Carbon County, Marecki, who served for seven years, says it will offer him stability and some proximity to his family here. Marecki declined to be interviewed.

The veterans selected for HomeFront are struggling, often with disabilities incurred from their military service, McGraw says.

“It is just a great program,” he says.

Supporting veterans is an apolitical cause, McGraw says. He has many vets in his family — a sister who fought in the first Gulf War, a grandfather who served in the Navy and an uncle who served in Vietnam.

“It's for everyone,” McGraw says. “It doesn't matter what your position is politically — that's not how you feel about people who protect and serve your country ... and provide freedom.

“You see the sacrifice that they make,” he says. “When these guys come back sometimes and can't provide ... for their families the way they provide for us, you have an opportunity” to help.

McGraw and his wife, fellow country star Faith Hill, won't be doing another nationwide Soul2Soul tour, a very popular dual concert, anytime soon. They have done only brief concert stints together in Las Vegas recently.

The couple are busy raising their three daughters: teenagers Gracie and Maggie, and tween Audrey. Each of the girls, emulating their parents' talents, sing well, and they each play instruments like the guitar and piano.

“They all have beautiful voices,” McGraw says. “They walk around the house singing everything.”

Will there be a country trio in the future called the McGraw Girls?

“That would be fun, but I'd like for them to have a ‘Dr.' in front of their names,” McGraw says, joking. “Whatever they want to do, I'm going to be fine.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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