Next month Tim McGraw will return to Country 2 Country for the first time since the festival’s inaugural year back in 2013. Back then the festival was smaller, and objectively not as successful as future years. Tim’s performance was solid, but the festival had not yet embraced, or fully understood, the U.K. country scene. In fact, in 2013, Neil McCormick of the Telegraph wrote that headliner Carrie Underwood was ‘more Katy Perry than Emmylou Harris.’ This year however, we will indeed have Emmylou Harris.
McGraw’s return is not only interesting with regards to the progression of the festival; he is returning with wife and fellow superstar Faith Hill. The pairs’ headlining slot is part of their third Soul2Soul tour, but their first joint venture to Europe. They released their first ever duets album, The Rest of our Life, in 2017, despite releasing their first duet, It’s Your Love, in 1997, and frequently recording duets together over the past 21 years.
So what brings them to the U.K.? Faith Hill has not released a solo album since 2008’s Christmas album, Joy to the World, whereas Tim McGraw has relatively reliably released a new album every two years since 1993. Their years as ‘the’ country power couple may have somewhat waned, with younger, newer artists taking their place at the top.
Country Music has changed since Don’t Take The Girl, it has returned to its traditional roots of honesty and grit, and embraced crossover artists tending towards urban music rather than bubblegum pop. Sam Hunt and Maren Morris are prime examples, the former forged his way with his country infused R&B, the latter with slightly more subtle lyrical references such as ‘me and Diddy drippin’ diamonds like Marilyn.’ Perhaps the couple have struggled to keep up with new trends, or perhaps they are simply stepping aside to let others share in the spotlight.
This is by no means a criticism of the couple, and in the past few years Tim has released a string of brilliant songs – Humble and Kind, Damn Country Music, Diamond Rings and Old Barstools, and too many more to mention, and all of these somewhat make up for the abomination that was Truck Yeah.
This album is a clever move. It appeals to nostalgia, bringing back the (slightly cheesy) music of the 90s and 00s and it is sure to appeal to a younger audience too, who may have missed their early work. The title track is written by Ed Sheeran, and Roll the Dice by Meghan Trainor, and those names will no doubt draw a new and potentially non country audience.
Staying relevant and popular in the country genre for over 20 years is no mean feat, and I have no doubt that London will welcome them with open arms, and we will wait with baited breath to see what this new chapter will bring.