NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tim McGraw has a reputation for picking the right songs over the course of his 20-year career, although he says he had some help on his latest hit.
His nostalgic country single "Meanwhile Back at Mama's" was clearly a winner after he saw the reaction that his wife and fellow country singer, Faith Hill, had after playing a demo of the song.
"And when it got to the end, where it said, 'Me and you back at mama's,' she started crying," McGraw said. "I said, 'I'm going to record it and you're going to record it with me.'"
The duet on his new album, "Sundown Heaven Town," out Tuesday, marks his 50th top 10 entry on Billboard's Hot Country chart and further emphasizes how important family is to McGraw, both for his own kinfolk and his ever-growing musical family.
"We really haven't recorded that many songs together," said McGraw, who will celebrate his 18th anniversary with Hill in October. "Just a handful. And we try to only record songs that we think are special to us. And this was one of those songs."
McGraw pulled in others close to his heart, including his singer-songwriter cousin, Catherine Dunn, and his longtime friend Kid Rock. Even mentioning the rocker gets him reminiscing about the early days of his career when he and Kenny Chesney played an all-night jam at Kid Rock's Detroit studio.
"We played until seven in the morning. Just played every song that we knew. It was one of the greatest nights of my life that I almost remembered," McGraw said with a wink to his pre-sobriety days.
But even for a hit maker, not every song is a home run. One of the first singles from the album was a pop-influenced track, "Lookin' for That Girl," which features an effect on his vocals commonly called auto-tune. The song peaked at No. 85 on the Hot 100 and had some radio stations questioning whether it was too progressive.
Producer Byron Gallimore, who has worked with McGraw on nearly all his albums, said one key to McGraw's success is that he's willing to take chances.
"You can go look at any of his albums and they had stuff that wasn't country, and nobody else was going to cut," Gallimore said. "And he was able to blend it and make it work because he's got a very country voice."
McGraw said he doesn't look for songs he thinks might please radio stations, his label or even his fans. He picks songs that he thinks are the best.
"I like to be able to experiment musically and grow as an artist," he said. "I think if I stop doing that, stop growing and stop experimenting, stop stretching my boundaries, then I probably shouldn't do it anymore. I don't ever want to be an artist that just does the same thing over and over again."