Love and Industry

A year and then some after its release, Faith remains in the country top five and showed up as the "Pace setter" on last week's Billboard Top 200 pop chart. Meantime, McGraw, now 32, debuted at No. 1 on both charts with A Place in the Sun. Unusually well-conceived, the collection's 14 songs concern time. "Seventeen" is a country-rockish memory of prom-era years, of first brushes with rock and roll and sex and blue jeans, when you're "standing on the edge of everything." But these kids hanging out on the bayou bridge, feeding fish potato chips and pondering the secrets of existence, just like the guy in the dynamite uptempo "Something Like That" who longs to impress a girl at the county fair but has a nasty barbecue stain on his white T-shirt, inevitably turn into the people who ponder, as McGraw sings on another quicksilver track, "My Next Thirty Years."

Stroud-Gallimore-McGraw make potato-chip country, a little rock and a little folk and a little pop, always reliably rhythmic. Yet McGraw, on superbly felt and built ballads like "Please Remember Me," doesn't stop there. He recognizes that even potato-chip country can manage real grandeur, can be as passionately and deeply sung as George Jones. And he pulls it off: His fast-moving, word-conscious tenor is now as good as country has. It's a long way from "Indian Outlaw."

But are you really a country star, these days, if you aren't a country star on TV? "I'm OK onstage," McGraw told me just before he won the Academy of Country Music's Best Male Vocalist—and Hill won Best Fe male Vocalist—in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. "But I'm uncomfortable at awards shows, much less VH-1 Divas Live. I don't know how Faith is able to pull it off. She loves it, though. She's the type of person who can talk to anybody. She has such mass appeal."


Tim McGraw
A Place in the Sun

Faith Hill
Warner Bros.

On the ACM show, McGraw gave one of the evening's truly terrific performances, singing Rodney Crowell's "Please Remember Me" as a superimposed wash of raindrops fell over him. "All our tears have reached the sea," he tells his departed lover. The song is about separation, with its falling minor-key orchestrations dramatizing the "valleys and peaks" McGraw sings of; it's the sort of song you really can't put across unless somewhere in yourself you know what perfect hell separation can or might be. The chorus, surprisingly chromatic and sharps-laden for country, is stunning. Its sad subject matter notwithstanding, this music on TV managed just the right air of bittersweet triumphalism for the story, so far, of Tim and Faith.

"We can relate to each other," McGraw told me about his marriage, "personally and professionally. The way our careers are, where we grew up. And when you're both in the business, it's hard to pull bullshit on each other about what you have to do there. I feel happiness and, being in a great place in life, that gives you confidence when you go to work. It's almost ridiculous, it's so good." In 1995, kicking off his third album, McGraw sang "All I Want Is a Life." Now he and Faith Hill apparently have one. You hear, at any rate, something like that in their music.

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