December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

Tim McGraw (Curb)

The Dancehall Doctors, McGraw’s longtime touring band, don’t have much to kick up their heels about on this somber 15-song set. The tone of this prosaic disc is so gloomy that it begins with the muffled drums usually reserved for a military funeral. The album is already mildly controversial for the first single, “Red Ragtop,” which initially seems like a good-time-teenage-make-out tune but is actually a song about an abortion and the emotional toll on all involved. The preachy “Who Are They?”—which is ostensibly a dig at anonymous so-called experts—randomly bashes The Village Voice, the Nashville scene and the population of Los Angeles.

The CD’s most enjoyable track, “Illegal,” has not only the ruefully hedonistic feel of an old Eagles cut, it has two actual Eagles, Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit, singing backup. Another pleasure is hearing the too-long-silent Kim “Bette Davis Eyes” Carnes in strong voice as she lends her raspy vocals to a dutiful cover of Elton John’s 1971 classic “Tiny Dancer.” In the end, though, too much of the album is burdened by a pretentiousness that suggests that McGraw’s head is getting way too big for his cowboy hat.

BOTTOM LINE: Too-grim Tim

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