Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Tim McGraw – Humble and Kind

Written by Lori McKenna, blurbed by Singles McJukebox…


Thomas Inskeep: Country music has a great tradition of “advice” songs, generally directed toward a younger generation but full of universal truths; the eternal example to me will always be Lee Ann Womack’s 2000 classic “I Hope You Dance.” 2016 added Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” to this club — it not only hit #1 on the country charts but cracked the top 15 at Adult Contemporary and made it to #30 on the Hot 100. “Humble and Kind” is inherently a simple song; songwriter Lori McKenna (who won her second consecutive CMA Award for Song of the Year for it) says she wrote it as a list of things she wanted to tell her husband and children. The refrain “always stay humble and kind,” repeated throughout both the verses and chorus, helps ground the song, as does McGraw’s delivery, which is simple and clear. He co-produced this with Byron Gallimore, and they wisely spotlight the lyric. There are subtle strings in the background, and a great, almost greasy and kind of unexpected guitar solo, but otherwise this is an understated arrangement, keeping the focus on McKenna’s beautiful lyrics. Cynics may hate this song. But I’m not a cynic.

Katie Gill: Some of McGraw’s advice is universal (don’t cheat, don’t lie) while other advice is pure country music overidealization of certain regional, small-town tropes (go to church cause your mama says to). It’s a lovely song with an amazing guitar break, but it comes off as way too condescending at certain points, like a mother scolding a teenager before the teenager goes out to a party. GOSH TIM, we know to hold doors open, urgh, you’re not the boss of me, I’M AN ADULT!!!

Alfred Soto: Although more cornpone than other songs written by Lori McKenna, or than songs McKenna wrote for her own fine album released earlier this year, this CMA-certified chestnut has Tim McGraw singing it — a cornball himself, but a committed one. By producing a couple of McKenna albums he’s lived the title; now I can say he’s sung it too. Poised and crinkly, McGraw puts twenty years of musical experience into these homiletics, and he’s shrewd enough a performer to mean the sentiments yet signal that they’re guides, not rules. I’m sure he knows WE know it’s polite to open doors for other people; some of us even do it for members of the same gender!

Jonathan Bradley: Even as a member of the urban cosmopolitan left, I have a pretty high tolerance for the comfort country music finds in tradition: the seriousness with which it treats generational continuity and community cohesion. But as a kid who was raised in a small town, parts of Tim McGraw’s really quite agreeable and easygoing “Humble and Kind” make my skin crawl at a not entirely conscious level. It’s the insistent instruction on manners (“hold the door, say please, say thank you”), the exhortation to religious observance, the suspicion that someone somewhere might be expecting a “free ride” that induces a barely susceptible nausea, like at some moment it might be revealed that McGraw’s generosity wasn’t supposed to extend so far as to include me. And yet there’s little reason to think the unwavering gentleness of “Humble and Kind” isn’t supposed to be exactly what it appears: an affirmation of the power of grace and compassion. Should I therefore treat it as a mellow-beyond-the-point-of-necessity version of something like the Drive-By Truckers’ “Outfit,” where its intention can make up for the times that its maxims shouldn’t be adhered to? And yet I’m not entirely on board: in the grimmer moments since the November election, I’ve remembered The National’s usually restorative assurance that “We’ll be fine/All we gotta do is be brave and be kind,” and I’ve wondered if that’s enough anymore. Even though humility and bravery are both worthwhile, I’d prefer the latter, even if it’s harder. Sometimes being humble just means suppressing your hopes.

Anthony Easton: The politics are a mess, the lyrics oversimplify, and it’s silly and a little dumb. But one of the best things about country music is that when you are feeling like shit, the rank sentimentality is given permission to make you feel better — plus McGraw sells it without irony and without pretension. Everything around the vocals sounds like late Willie, McGraw’s voice has a velvet sheen, and I cannot begrudge a moment of it. 

Edward Okulicz: This song’s got some lovely melodies glued together by lyrical bromides that taste sour to me, no matter how much honey McGraw’s voice coats them with. I can’t help but feel this being the CMA Song of the Year represents some kind of aspirational morality which makes me feel uncomfortable, even if I think it’s lovely to have a song that promotes simple humanity in deed. I’m probably not the target for the sentiment, as the last time my mother suggested I go to church I said something that was neither humble nor kind, but I am wildly appreciative of the guitar solo. Just think of this one as “Live Like You Were Going To Live For Another Fifty Years And Be A Nice Person.”

Ramzi Awn: The simplicity of the songwriting is convincing–almost like a sedated version of “I Hope You Dance.” And Tim gives us all the right emotions: warm, fuzzy and wistful.

Iain Mew: Soundwise, it’s a long featureless trudge apart from the guitar solo, and even that is spoilt a little by the needless floaty strings. That puts a lot of emphasis on the lyrical advice, which isn’t new or insightful or tied together enough that I feel much about it. The one thing “Humble and Kind” does have going for it is Tim McGraw’s simple sincerity — I probably would trust him on the sunscreen

Brad Shoup: There are moments in our day that are more obviously intimate: bathtime, say, or at the changing station. But every other day or so, my wife drives to the store, or takes a very long shower, and it’s just me, holding a bottle while he lays against my arm. In those 15 or so minutes — when he hasn’t popped off the bottle to digest, then immediately cry — his eyes are locked on mine. Sometimes I see a tender dependence. What really throws me are those times when his brow furrows, and I see, I dunno — it’s like a dare, like he’s daring me to tell him our plans. My wife and I are constantly casting his timeline forward a couple years, a decade, sometimes longer. How will he be? What will delight him? Who will he love? [He just pooped himself awake; I have to stop for a sec.] Even as a first-timer, I know these are basic questions. I know Lori McKenna and Tim McGraw have gazed on a sleeping child or three or five in their time. They whisper how do I make this one kind? into the cozy dark and they know not to wait for an answer. McKenna’s recording has the friendly lilt of a parent calling final reminders out the front door. McGraw’s has dew in its eyes: the expression of care is, for him, a repeated intimacy that can’t wear. (The lyric starts and ends with specificity; between that is a rolling scroll of golden rules and polished bootstraps. It all might have played cornier before I discovered how much we’re truly out for ourselves.) The reverb stretches its arms; the solo breaks down in the embrace. There are strings, because no one said “enough”. My wife and I will always be confounded by our inability to predict what walls our child will hit. But we took our great hope and tucked it into his name. Wherever he goes, he will be Henry Jubilation. And we will trust that joy will be known.

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2 Responses to “Tim McGraw – Humble and Kind”

  1. Brad just about made me cry.

  2. and you’ve done the same for me