By CHRIS TALBOTT
AP Music Writer
Tim McGraw is free.
The country star has moved on from a troubling label, quit drinking and grown up a bit, and all that has given McGraw a new energy he says you can hear on his latest album, “Two Lanes of Freedom.”
“I think this record is definitely sort of a flag in the ground for me,” McGraw said.
His first release with Big Machine Records had been the talk of Nashville. Singles have marched up the charts and fans have responded enthusiastically as McGraw debuted music on the road during his stadium tour with Kenny Chesney last year.
For the first time in years, everything is aligned exactly how McGraw wants it. And the 45-year-old singer is fired up like he’s playing under Friday-night lights.
That energy has translated to the people around him as well.
“I think a real cloud has been lifted,” said Coran Capshaw, McGraw’s manager since 2009. “He’s got a great new partner in Big Machine and can put his music out and be in control of his career. The ability to move forward is here and that’s been exciting. And that’s where I think that energy comes from.”
McGraw’s final five years at Curb Records led to some discouraging low-wattage moments in what has otherwise been a mostly perfect two-decade career.
McGraw remained a star during this period, stretching into acting and selling more records and tickets than most of his peers.
But there’s no question it was a stagnant period in which a series of best-of releases mixed in with new music led to confusion and frustration for fans.
It was even worse for McGraw, good friend Brad Warren said. To understand how difficult the period was for McGraw, the songwriter said, you have to understand how competitive the singer is.
“When I hear stories about Michael Jordan and sports, I think of Tim,” Warren said. “He is competitive with everything all the time. When he decided he was going to get in shape, he didn’t stop when he started to look good in a T-shirt. He’s just super-competitive. All the really big winners are like that.
“He’s the Michael Jordan of country music.”