Songwriters: Ashley Gorley, Brian Simpson
The ongoing conflict between Tim McGraw and Curb Records certainly has taken some interesting turns as of late. A Nashville court has set him free of his contract with Curb Records, with a further hearing scheduled for next summer. Mere hours after McGraw’s court victory was announced, Curb Records quickly released the single “Better Than I Used to Be” to country radio. Subsequently, McGraw’s long-withheld Emotional Traffic album was finally given a scheduled release date of January 17, 2012.
“Better Than I Used to Be” was previously recorded by Sammy Kershaw last year as the first single to his album of the same title. It is unfortunate that Kershaw had slid so far off of country radio’s radar by then that his version didn’t have much of a shot at becoming a hit, as it so deserved. It is perhaps to McGraw’s advantage that the average country radio listener is likely unfamiliar with Kershaw’s superior take on “Better Than I Used to Be.” That’s not to say that McGraw gives a bad performance, because he doesn’t. Throughout his storied career, McGraw has historically nailed the emotional aspects of his vocal performances. His performance here does not disappoint, but it does lack the richness and subtlety that gives Kershaw’s version a clear edge in terms of overall effectiveness.
(Click here to hear the Sammy Kershaw version)
Fortunately, “Better Than I Used to Be” is a well-written song that is strong enough to pull its own weight. The lyrics present a narrator who displays humility and self-awareness as he strives to move on from the mistakes and regrets of his past, going about his quest to become the person he wants to be. The hook “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be” emphasizes the progressive nature of the journey toward reaching one’s goals. It conveys an attitude of being realistic and honest, while simultaneously harboring a ray of dawning optimism.
Even though it doesn’t top Sammy Kershaw’s version, Tim McGraw’s take on “Better Than I Used to Be” is still a competent performance of a beautifully written song. If it takes a star of McGraw’s caliber to give this song the audience it deserves, then perhaps all will be for the best after all. We will have to wait and see what future directions McGraw’s career will take post-Curb, but with his recent singles output being cluttered with the mediocre “Me and Tennessee” as well as flat-out duds like “Felt Good On My Lips,” it’s just refreshing to hear Tim McGraw singing a good song once again.
TIM’S SCORE: 8
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
HEAR IT via Taste of Country