Greatest Hits Vol 2: Reflected
im McGraw didn’t resonate with me musically until 2002, nearly a decade into his career. That’s when he released a video for a non-single from his 2001 album Set This Circus Down. “Angel Boy” was a stunner, all lush green countryside filmed in Ireland—I assume that Curb Records figured since they’d spent the cash on it, they might as well let CMT run it, even though the song was never sent to radio. What really nailed me, though, was the song, a surprising (to me) track about spiritual crisis. Until then I’d always figured McGraw a middleweight country-popster at most, basing much of that assumption on his breakthrough, 1994’s fairly odious “Indian Outlaw.”
Since then, McGraw’s art has increasingly taken precedence over commercialism. His huge success has given him the license to take risks with his music—risks most country stars of his caliber-slash-stature won’t (or don’t) take. Some of those risks are in evidence on his second set of hits, which consists of 11 actual hits (including the titanic Technicolor-tears duet with his wife, Faith Hill, “Like We Never Loved at All”), four new songs, and in deliciously perverse fashion, McGraw’s collaboration with Nelly on the great 2004 couuuuntry (not country)-pop smash “Over and Over” (can’t wait to hear what his core fans think of this one, even if CMT did put the video in heavy rotation). Unintentionally, Greatest Hits Vol 2 also shows some of his artistic progression.
Let’s get a significant criticism out of the way off the top: this album has a completely random chronology. A song from 1997 bumps up against a new track, which is followed by one from 2000. In addition, the quartet of new songs featured here is surprisingly limp. “My Little Girl” is taken from McGraw’s forthcoming film remake of Flicka, and accordingly is a fairly maudlin, pedestrian “I love you” as sadly befits a “family” film of its ilk. “I’ve Got Friends That Do” (oddly listed as a bonus track, which I guess just means its credits are omitted) offers up a litany of “this is for the ____s” from the cliché mines, followed by a series of “I may not know _______, but I’ve got friends that do”s. Skip this pair, the album’s last two tracks, and you’ll stifle plenty of yawns.
The reason I hold McGraw to a higher standard than some of his equally big-selling contemporaries (Mr. Chesney to the white courtesy phone) is evidenced in songs such as the one breaking up the ass-end of his new collection: 2002’s “Red Ragtop” is a stunning mid-tempo track grounded by a perfectly-picked acoustic guitar line and some emotionally hard-hitting lyrics. The song received loads of attention when released as a single, due to its reference to abortion: “We were young and wild / We decided not to have a child / So we did what we did and we tried to forget / And we swore up and down there’d be no regrets.” There’s more to “Red Ragtop” than abortion, however; this is a heavy song of memory and regret done with an absurdly deft touch by McGraw.
He brings that same touch to the album’s other new track (and first single), a surprising cover of Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue.” Not only does it offer McGraw a chance to sing in a way he’s not been doing so much lately (he’s taken quite a shine to talk-singing, not that there’s anything wrong with that), but he underplays it where other Nashville cats would be all guns and bombast. It’s hard to say what Adams might think of it, but its appearance here, not to mention the myriad radio spins it’s getting, will keep him in cigarettes and booze for years and years to come.
The bulk of the rest of Vol 2 is made up of solid-to-great hits of recent vintage, from the CMA’s 2004 Song of the Year “Live Like You Were Dying” (transcends its clichés just where it shouldn’t) to the slyly winking “Real Good Man” (the panties go flying for that one) and the lovely, if lyrically awkward “She’s My Kind of Rain” (which is what, exactly?). To get to songs such as those from the likes of “Everywhere” and 1994’s groan-inducing “Not A Moment Too Soon” is quite an accomplishment, so here’s hoping that the new duds on Greatest Hits Vol 2 are an aberration, the result of a rushed trip into the studio or some such, and that “Go Blue” is more indicative of where McGraw’s going. This collection shows and proves that he’s certainly got the talent, if he so chooses to use it.
Reviewed by: Thomas Inskeep
Reviewed on: 2006-04-28