Tim McGraw is busting back onto the country music charts with the first single off his forthcoming Big Machine Records debut, "Two Lanes of Freedom."

"One of Those Nights" inched into the Top 10 last week at number nine.

The album's name is no doubt a play off his final Curb Records album, "Emotional Highway," which mired him and his longtime label in a prolonged legal battle that turned downright nasty.

In case you missed it, the controversy erupted when McGraw, anxious to end his 20-plus-year contractual obligation to Curb, delivered his final album in late 2010. Curb said that was way too early.

So the label filed legal action and tied up the album's release. McGraw countersued and stewed as he watched country music newcomers pass him by on the radio and charts. Curb finally released the album last January after a court agreed McGraw had fulfilled his legal obligation and could leave Curb and sign with Big Machine.

And that pretty much brings us to "Two Lanes," due out Tuesday.

This is an album that I can't help but feel McGraw has been itching to make since the multiplatinum "Live Like You Were Dying" in 2004. There's a renewed energy here and excitement that seems to have been missing in his past couple of projects.

On "Two Lanes," McGraw returns to the formula that brought him to the dance - pop country liberally seasoned with Southern rock and neo-traditional nods. It's all radio-friendly but not in a selling-out way. He sings about having "One of Those Nights" where you make memories with a pretty girl "shimmy shakin' right into them cut-offs, baby." Or rediscovering memories from a long-lost soldier in "Book of John" that gets passed down from generation to generation. He gets some vocal backing by Big Machine label mate Taylor Swift on the closing track, "Highway Don't Care," which is only fitting given that "Tim McGraw" was Swift's 2006 debut single that put her in the spotlight.

McGraw also takes his cue from the new guys like Jason Aldean, mixing a rougher edge and hick-hop attitude in the rollicking "Truck Yeah."

Mariachi rhythms rock the pure pop pleasure of "Mexicoma," a song extolling the pleasure and pain of nursing a tequila-fueled "Mexicoma."

And there are songs - like the album-opening "Friend of a Friend" - in the classic style that has long taken him to the top of the charts.

Other album highlights include the James Taylor-esque "Nashville Without You," the finger-snapping rocker "Southern Girl" and the contemplative prison ballad "Number 37405."


"Two Lanes of Freedom" by Tim McGraw. Big Machine Records.