As one of modern country’s most enduring superstars, Tim McGraw has been in the trenches while the boundaries of his chosen genre have shifted. But Damn Country Music, his 14th album, is at its best when he’s operating in Nashville’s classic mode–paying tribute to “old stray dogs and guitars playin'” on “How I’ll Always Be” or chronicling the giddy highs and heartbreaking depths of romance on the charging “Love Is.” Superstar duo Big & Rich stop by for “California,” while McGraw’s 18-year-old daughter Gracie provides an assist on the album opener, “Here Tonight.” That song and the shimmering “Losin’ You” find McGraw tipping his cowboy hat toward musical trends that have recently hit the heartland–stomping beats, whooping choirs–which is an understandable gesture. But McGraw shines most brightly when he’s foregrounding his warm, supple voice and keeping the music that surrounds him uncluttered. Perhaps that’s why the album closes with “Humble and Kind,” in which the “good life” means one governed by manners and grace.
This appears in the November 16, 2015 issue of TIME.
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