Tim McGraw came off of touring behind his album “Two Lanes Of Freedom” in 2013 not at all feeling the strain of a busy preceding 12 months.
Freed in 2012 from his previous record deal with Curb Records, McGraw signed with Big Machine Records and went right to work on following up his 2012 album, “Emotional Traffic,” with “Two Lanes of Freedom.”
After releasing that latter album in February 2013, he launched into a major summer tour and barely stopped to catch his breath before hitting the studio to get to work on what became “Sundown Heaven Town.”
“We came right off of the tour and went back into the studio,” he said. “We just really had this sort of renewed sense of purpose and drive and importance in what we were doing. I think as an artist, part of what you do is you feel important about what you do, about your music. It counts and it matters to you, and that’s what it feels like to me right now. It may not matter to anybody else, but it matters to me.”
The sense of rejuvenation for McGraw coincided with his arrival on Big Machine Records. And in a phone interview he compared his current musical state of mind to the period leading into his fourth studio album, 1997’s “Everywhere.” That CD felt like a landmark effort for McGraw. It came after his marriage to fellow country star Faith Hill, was his first self-produced album and spawned four No. 1 country singles. It’s widely considered the album on which McGraw came into his own as a country star.
“I went into record ‘Everywhere,’ and it was the first album that I was putting my name on as producer and I felt like I had that energy,” McGraw said. “I felt like I had weaved myself (through) sort of the landmines a little bit where I felt like free to just make music. I sort of felt that way with ‘Two Lanes of Freedom,’ and this album (‘Sundown Heaven Town’) sort of just really extended that for me.”
“Two Lanes Of Freedom” followed a contentious period for McGraw in which he successfully sued Curb Records to be released from his contract. The dispute came to a head with Curb deciding to put “Emotional Traffic” on the shelf and instead release a McGraw best-of album, “Number One Hits,” in November 2010.
McGraw had adamantly opposed the release of “Number One Hits,” noting it was the fourth greatest-hits collection Curb had released and offered little that was new to his fans.
He had wanted to release “Emotional Traffic,” and in fact named his 2011 summer tour the “Emotional Traffic” tour and previewed songs from that album in those concerts. But now the album was in limbo.
The dispute eventually boiled over into a breach of contract lawsuit from Curb, which claimed McGraw had recorded “Emotional Traffic” too early. McGraw counter-sued, seeking reimbursement for his recording expenses, his advance and damages.
McGraw won a major victory in November 2011 when a judge granted McGraw permission to record for another label, ending his affiliation with Curb. “Emotional Traffic” was then released by Curb in January 2012.
Not surprisingly, McGraw feels “Sundown Heaven Town” shares some significant traits with “Two Lanes Of Freedom.”
“They just seemed sort of like bookends to each other, sort of like volume one and volume two,” McGraw said. “I think that this one is an extension of ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’ in a lot of ways sonically, sort of taking some of the things that we loved on ‘Two Lanes of Freedom.’ For instance, the title cut, ‘Two Lanes of Freedom,’ a song called ‘Friend of a Friend,’ our direction sonically on the new album came sort of from those songs.”
Because “Sundown Heaven Town” hadn’t been released when McGraw toured last summer, he figures to include a few songs from that album in his shows this summer. He also has a new single to debut, “Top of the World,” from a new album he plans to release yet this year.
The set list, though, won’t neglect his back catalog, as McGraw plans to work as many hits into his set list as possible.
“I mean, there are certain standards that you always do,” he said. “But we couldn’t play every song we’ve had on the radio. It would be a four-hour show to get in every song that’s been on the radio. So that’s always the fun part of designing the set list and building the set list.”
When: Thursday, Sept. 17
Where: Toyota Amphitheatre, 2677 Forty Mile Road, Wheatland
Information: 530-743-5900; 916-528-8497, www.livenation.com