Tim McGraw – “Better Than I Used to Be”

12 Dec

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.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

HEAR IT via Taste of Country

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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Single Reviews


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7 responses to “Tim McGraw – “Better Than I Used to Be”

  1. Diane

    December 12, 2011 at 5:08 AM

    I had not heard Sammy singing this song so I clicked on the link and listened. I totally disagree with you. I do like many of Sammy Kershaw’s songs but not this one. I think Tim McGraw does a far superior job on Better Then I Use To Be. Tim’s version has so much more emotion in it and he really makes you feel it. To me that gives it the richness and makes it very effective.

  2. Hoggy from Oz

    December 14, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    I do think this is easily the best song Tim McGraw has released in years. I certainly hope it does well on the charts and it has got me interested in hearing the rest of the album, when just a few weeks ago I had no interest in it at all. I love the steel guitar as well :)

  3. Josh

    December 19, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    “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.”

    Absolutely nailed it, man. Tim McGraw’s still one of the best album singers in the genre, but he doesn’t seem to go above and beyond to inject emotion into his songs like he did in his prime; if he had brought the passion, timing and vocal nuances he poured into “Angry All The Time” to this record, it could have been one of the best cuts of his career. I still think this is one of the better singles of the last year or two (and also one of Tim’s better vocals in the last several years), but I think he really could have knocked this out of the park.

    One little issue I have with this: why did they change the melody of the hook line? Kershaw’s melodically lifted version sounds triumphant, almost, while the flat melody of McGraw’s version sound more like a statement of fact: “I have improved.”. Here are the two lines:



  4. rowdyred

    January 19, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    I MUCH prefer Sammy Kershaw’s version, and not only because of the superior vocal performance. For some reason, there’s a change in the lyrics of the chorus between the two.

    “I ain’t no angel, but I’ve been sitting out a few more dances with the devil”

    “I ain’t no angel, I’ve still got a few more dances with the devil”

    Now, if I’m the person being asked to have faith in the guy, I’d rather hear him say he’s got every intention of staying on his redemptive path than in the guy who concedes he’s still likely to screw up.

    I’ve no idea which one of the two is the original lyrics. I imagine the first one is, since it’s by far the stronger. I can’t help but wonder who changed them, and why?

    • Katrina Kitty Mayo

      March 16, 2013 at 11:26 PM

      I agree with what you say here, I dont like tims lyrical changes, Sammy is the man!

  5. OldiesRadioJock

    January 20, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Sammy just kicks ass all the way around. Stronger vocals, more emtion, and the song actually fits Sammy’s life. One thing i have to say about all of this is that country radio is just weird. The say Sammy was too country for country so they weren’t gonna play the song. Well now Tim because of who he is the money he has backing him, radio is going to give him a top 10 hit. I’m so happy i’m out of country radio!!!

  6. rowdyred

    January 20, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Too country for country radio….ain’t that the craziest thing. I guess they prefer the pseudo-metal-rock (Jason A., lookin’ at you) or the weightless pop (hi, Taylor, Lady A., etc.) that passes for country now.

    Sadly, there are all too many cliche-ridden redneck-cornpone songs purporting to celebrate the country life. Sammy offers a beautiful, moving redemptive love song with nary a mention of trucks, backroads or small towns and it’s “too country” until Tim McGraw covers it?



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