What must life be like in the McGraw-Hill household? If their promo videos and interviews are to be believed it’s one long, glorious love in. A couple still deeply in love (and lust) after all these years, after raising children and after everything the music and film industry has thrown at them. Obviously, it isn’t all like that and behind the gloss, the lipstick and the hats there must beat the heart of a ‘normal’ married relationship with its foibles and dynamics and it isn’t really any of our business but it has become hard to separate the marriage from the music as both are intertwined with their image and, now, the products they produce.
To say ‘The Rest of Our Life’ has been a long-time in the making is an understatement. Right from when the couple got together over twenty years ago now, the fans of both artists have been clamouring for a duets album. Faith’s career eventually took a back-seat, as it often does in the marriages of professionals who want to raise kids with one parent being more at home than the other one, but it is clear that with their girls now more grown up and independent, she is back with a bang, baby!
Make no mistake, whist this is a duets album, the headlines belong to Faith Hill. The big moments, the soaring vocals and gut wrenching lyrics are all hers on ‘The Rest of Our Life’, almost as if Tim McGraw is re-paying her the dues owed for his career stability by providing her with a ‘stepped return to work’, piggy-backing (in the most positive sense) Hill back into a workplace that she has been away from for quite a while, on the back of his name and success. There is a whole generation of fans out there who have grown up either not knowing who Faith Hill was and having to do research on Youtube or consigning her to that graveyard of 90’s acts that time has forgot. Those of us old enough to remember the furore around the release of ‘This Kiss’ back in 1998 and the accusations of it being ‘not Country’ might well chuckle at that ongoing debate in the Country genre but it is great to have her back. She came before Carrie, before Miranda and was a million times better than Shania and the genre has been worse for not having her in it. ‘The Rest of Our Life’ is a glorious return and one that will see her go from strength to strength in her solo career, should she so want it.
The album is cleverly designed to begin and end with two sets of songs that are helmed by both McGraw and Hill. The title track kicks things off and is instantly recognisable as an Ed Sheeran song, The intonation of the voices, the structure and melody are all his and even the inflection on McGraw and Hill’s voices when they say certain words like ‘our’ are less Country and more Sheeran. It’s a great song, powerful yet very little in its size and scope. I do however have an issue with McGraw’s, ‘I’ll be fine, if my waistline grows’, line. You know damn well that that isn’t true! I can imagine all sorts of alarms and flashing lights going off in the house if either of their BMI rises by even a tenth of a percent, but the sentiment is one I approve of even if the reality of it makes me chuckle.
Track 2, ‘Telluride’ is also a proper duet in the sense that Faith Hill helms one verse and then McGraw takes over for the next. It’s jangly guitar intro has a very 90’s feel and it’s speaks to the authenticity of both artists that they have kept strictly to what they know about and the roots they came from – there is no chasing the Sam Hunt sound or current trend for EDM or rapping – every song on ‘The Rest of Lives’ could have been lifted from any period of their careers and the album is all more the authentic for that. ‘Telluride’ is the most 90’s-ish song on the album and the most musical. It tells the story of a couple that meet on the road, ‘a vagabond and a gypsy fool’. They have a number of adventures together, backed by superb instrumentation and a gospel choir. There is even an extended guitar outro that will give space for band introductions during the live ‘Soul 2 Soul’ shows.
The other two proper duets bookend the album in its closing moments. ‘Speak to a Girl’ and ‘Roll the Dice’ are the last two tracks and provide us with different moods. ‘….Girl’, the first song released from this project back in the summer, is a strong song with a strong message. Hill takes verse 1, McGraw verse 2 – it’s the song I imagine they will make any future boyfriend of their daughters listen to – it a learning song about how to treat a women. Slightly generalistic, a touch patronising to some women I imagine but the heart and the sentiment is there. ‘Roll the Dice’, the final song on the album, shuts it down in style. A funky, disco-tinged song that could almost be the Country cousin to Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’! Both singers get a turn in the spotlight as the Motown influences finish of ‘The Rest of Our Lives’ in style with a song that I hope they find a place for in their live sets.
There is a fifth duet, ‘Break First, placed right in the middle of all the solo songs. It’s a big, almost Meat Loaf-esque ballad that Faith absolutely nails with her huge vocals, particularly towards the end as it builds to a crescendo of vocals and guitars. There is plenty of Youtube footage out there of this song as they have been playing it across the summer in the ‘Soul 2 Soul’ shows. The song often ends with a staring competition that Faith seems to win as far as I can tell. ‘Break First’ is a huge song and is well deserving of a live outing, it’s power and intensity only adding to the drama of a show.
The middle section of the album sees both singers get the chance to shine solo with three songs that feature the other spouse in backing singer mode. Tim gets ‘Cowboy Lullaby’, Sleeping in the Stars’ and ‘Devil Callin Me Back’. All three songs are quality. The first two are quiet, restrained songs in which McGraw holds himself back for the sake of the song. In both it is Hill’s backing vocals that soar, elevating both songs to a different level as McGraw goes for the tender, heartfelt moments and Hill for the power. Even on ‘Devil Callin’ Me Back’, which is a funky, song with a darker melody, it is Hill’s involvement in a call-and-answer moment in verse two when she cuts in with a, “I call and you come”, that makes you sit up and take note. This is another sassy, funky song for Tim McGraw that I hope they find a ‘Soul 2 Soul’ slot for it, although at this rate my wishlist for the concert would probably be coming in at about a three hour run time!
Faith also gets three solo songs. ‘The Bed We Made’, Love Me to Lie’ and ‘Damn Good at Holding On.’ The first one, ‘The Bed We Made’ is probably the one that will be most talked about on the album. It is another example of the McGraw-Hill’s blurring the lines between the music and the marriage. In verse 1 Hill reels of a list of the domestic jobs that have been done that day before then declaring, ‘So, let’s go make a mess of the bed we made this morning.” The first time I heard it my inner Kenneth Williams kicked in and I inadvertently went, ”Oh, saucy!”. The song continues to be about the McGraw-Hill’s having a wild sex session – I can’t imagine it’s their daughters’ favourite song on the album but it is certainly an impact song! Driven by that modern penchant for hand-clap percussion, it also has a very tasteful guitar solo and is one of the strongest songs on the album.
Whilst we are on the subject of the strongest song on the album we should talk about ‘Love Me to Lie’. The sixth track of the eleven and the counter-point of the while album. In many respects, it feels like the whole project and the re-launching of Faith Hill’s career could revolve around this song. It’s quite simply massive. A piano intro leads into a quieter first verse as Faith struggles with the realisation that her partner is slipping away from her. The drums and guitars kick in in verse 2 and by the second chorus it’s all kicking off. You can feel the song building like an impending storm – it’s dark, dramatic and portentous and it crescendos in a melee of vocals and guitars. This is both Faith’s and the album’s stand out moment, the nadir of everything they’ve been working towards since announcing the project. It’s not strictly a Country song, although to be fair almost everything else on ‘The Rest of Our Lives’ is – it’s more like an Adele song – but it’s huge and powerful enough to entertain in its own right.
This is a difficult album to review as it almost feels bigger than the genre itself. The modern-day king of Country music and his wife, herself a celebrated singer in her own right. The blurring of the music and the marriage. The hoo-ha and the razzamatazz surrounding them can often blind you to the fact that this is a music album, first and foremost. It won’t be for everybody – there might be a little too much saccharine involved for some people’s tastes, it might a little too ‘grown up’ and middle-aged for the Sam Hunt or the Kelsea crowd but I applaud them for what they have produced – a powerful, emotional album that is true to the roots of both singers. It is a very musical album, with good guitar solos, banjo, steel guitar and plenty of piano. There are extended musical outros in a number of songs and it feels like it has been lovingly curated by the team involved in its creation. Tim McGraw is great, Faith Hill is simply outstanding and it will be a privilege to see them sing these songs (and more) at the O2 in London come next March, as their ‘Soul 2 Soul’ tour comes UK bound for the C2C Festival. It’ll be worth exercising and fine-tuning your goose-bumps because I think they will get a good airing when the whole circus rolls into town!