Everything about Tim McGraw is plus-size. The boots, the twelve-gallon Stetson, the linebacker-broad shoulders. His wife, Faith Hill, just happens to be the top female star in country music. And there’s McGraw’s hits, 26 No. 1 singles and counting — hugely catchy honky-tonk-tinged rockers and heart-tugging adult contemporary ballads, on which the sounds are big and the emotions bigger. McGraw’s new album begins with ”Last Dollar (Fly Away),” an ode to life on the road written by Big Kenny of Big & Rich, himself a specialist in the steroids school of commercial country music. Sure enough, it’s a pumped-up Southern-rock song, with shades of Steve Miller and the Eagles, and what sounds like dozens of guitar and vocal overdubs. ”When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothin’ to lose/Ha ha ha ha/Ha ha ha ha,” McGraw sings. Is he laughing at the sheer silliness of a song that dares to inflate hard-living clichés to such gargantuan dimensions?
Let It Go has a couple of other funny novelty-type numbers, notably ”Kristofferson,” a breakup ballad that pays tribute to the singer-songwriter. And there is a surprise or two. McGraw has never been afraid of genre departures — this is the guy who partnered with Nelly to create the first chart-topping hip-hop/country duet — and he flexes some R&B muscles on ”Suspicions,” a swank, Hall & Oates-like slab of blue-eyed soul. But McGraw’s calling card is country-rock melodrama — big, gusty songs that venerate home and hearth and dramatize the everyday battles of working-class life. The new album is chock-full of such meat-and-potatoes McGraw, but with the exception of the title track, none have the indelible melodies that have marked his finest work, like the 2004 smash ”Live Like You Were Dying.” Strangely, the most compelling moment turns out to be the least McGrawesque. It’s ”Shotgun Rider,” a ballad about ranching and romance, with close harmony backing vocals by Hill: a lovely, loping, old-fashioned song that — shocker — you could almost call subtle. B-