Tim McGraw, "Damn Country Music" (Big Machine )

He isn't the pop-honky-tonk interpreter of yore, the jocular country crooner good with a sly rejoinder. Like his new physique, McGraw's music is all muscle, with a leaner, meaner aesthetic, whose direct, coolly assured manner and surly but sensitive recent catalog are a relaxed fit for his smooth, distant voice. "Damn Country Music" offers a not-overly-sweet mix of subtle technological washes and midtempo Southern soul traditionalism. It's hard to tell how cleaned up McGraw's voice is on the cool, serenely sentimental "Top of the World," yet that effect doesn't eliminate the song's gently earthy romanticism. "Here Tonight" with his daughter Gracie is fine yet somewhat plastic. "Damn Country Music" surround-sounds McGraw's soft bourbon-and-water drawl. Longtime producer Byron Gallimore keeps "Everybody's Lookin'" and "Kiss a Girl" sonically blissful yet blunt in the rendering. Like a good joker, McGraw gets to the punch line quickly, with a straight face.

A.D. amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer