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Tim McGraw enjoys putting himself, and his music, to the test

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Country musician Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw's fans won't get to buy his new album for a few more months, but the country superstar has thrown out musical appetizers to spike anticipation and keep fans satisfied while they wait.

Fans already have heard several songs from “Sundown Heaven Town,” which Big Machine Records is set to release Sept. 16. The matching tour comes to the First Niagara Pavilion on June 6. First, there was the leadoff single, “Lookin' for That Girl,” early this year. Now, there are the singles “Meanwhile Back at Mama's,” a duet with wife Faith Hill, and “Something Like That,” which McGraw sang live during a performance in May on NBC's “Today.”

On NBC's “The Voice” finale, McGraw introduced “City Lights.” And on his website, McGraw is running “Countdown to Sundown,” where fans can get exclusive previews and win prizes.

Since the early 1970s, releasing a single a few months before an album has been standard practice, but releasing more than one just isn't done. The award-winning McGraw — whose hits include “Live Like You Were Dying,” “I Like It, I Love It,” “Where the Green Grass Grows” and the “Highway Don't Care” duet with Taylor Swift — says his previews reflect the digital age and stir up more enthusiasm.

“It's a different world out there with music; everyone wants music now,” says the man who has sold over 40 million records worldwide and produced 35 No. 1s. “Everyone wants to hear fresh and new stuff. My thought process was: We're going to have an album with 10 to 15 songs on it, so I wanted to give everyone an idea of what was coming.”

“Sundown Heaven Town” results from the free-spirited progression of McGraw's career, he says, rather than a specific plan for a specific type of album.

“I don't really set out to make a different album,” McGraw says. “I sort of just let the music take me where it's going to take me. ... At the end of the day, it goes where it goes.”

The same principle, McGraw says, applies with genre boundaries, which have become more blurry between country and rock/pop music. Good music is good music, and it need not fit a mold, he says.

“I think that art is art, and we're all influenced by so many different things,” McGraw says. “I think you just go make your music. Who you are comes out in your music.”

Whether the music has a little more pop, a little more country, a little more R&B or something else, McGraw says singers can do all those things — and, for country singers, the core comes from the storytelling in the lyrics.

“When you're an artist, you should push your boundaries; you should test yourself,” he says.

With “Meanwhiale Back at Mama's,” McGraw and Hill describe life the way it was before the electronic explosion, with old-fashioned, simple, face-to-face time spent with people.

“I heard this song, and I knew right away … she would just add that magic to the record,” McGraw says about Hill. The couple live near Nashville and have three daughters.

“Both of us are from rural communities,” says the Louisiana native; Hill is from Mississippi. “We grew up in an environment where ... other people who you grew up with are very important. It just felt like the perfect song for us.”

This song sends the message to pause and take a breath, McGraw says. It's something he and his family do on most nights they are at home together, when they turn their phones and televisions off and enjoy a home-cooked meal together.

“We all have busy lives,” McGraw says. “We're inundated by social media, by television, by everything every day. It can seem really hectic. Sometimes, it's nice to just sit down and reflect on it.”

Singing with Hill, which he has done before on “It's Your Love,” “I Need You” and “Like We Never Loved At All,” makes McGraw feel like a NASCAR racing against a Formula One, he jokes.

“She's really that level of quality and perfection and artistry,” he says. “To me, she's one of the finest vocalists that's around. To sing with her is a privilege.”

The multifaceted artist also is awaiting next year's unveiling of the movie “Tomorrowland,” in which he plays a kooky rocket scientist. The film, inspired by the futuristic, space-themed area at the Disney parks, stars George Clooney. McGraw can't say much about the movie before it's release, but he will say that “Tomorrowland” is a “spectacle.”

“It's a really big movie with a lot of stuff going on with it,” he says. “I'm looking forward to seeing it, to see how it turns out because there's so much.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at

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