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Tim McGraw sets himself free

Tim McGraw is 45 years old, has produced 33 No. 1 country singles and for more than a decade has branched into acting and performing with other musicians, including Nelly and Tony Bennett. Yet despite having gone down more avenues than most country singers, McGraw says he feels fresher than ever.

The reasons: He has a new record label, has quit drinking and has returned to original country music.

"I just feel there is so much more ahead of me," the singer, who will perform Friday in West Palm Beach, says on "I feel energized, like I'm on the cusp of my career."

His new album, "Two Lanes of Freedom," is his first release for his new label, Big Machine. His previous label, Curb Records, recently filed a lawsuit against McGraw and Big Machine in federal court, claiming McGraw was recording new music too early in an effort to fulfill his contractual obligations.

"Those things make you reflect on where you've been," McGraw says, "and it's hard to think about where you want to go until you look at where you've been. When you listen to this record, there's a lot of that reflection that drives everything forward. It's almost like two magnets, the future and the past, and when they get close to each other, it pushes them away."

The self-reflection was accompanied by his realization a few years ago that he needed to change his pre-concert habit of knocking back a few drinks before taking the stage, and then following it with a few too many afterward.

"When I first started, my mom said if I didn't stop doing that, it'd be a problem. But who pays attention to their mom when they're 20 years old?" McGraw recalls. "Then, it got to where I felt like I couldn't do my job unless I had some kind of help, like some drinks."

McGraw has never been one to just sit back and sing country. Over the years, he has collaborated with not only Bennett and Nelly, but also Def Leppard and Ne-Yo, while also acting in "The Blind Side," "Country Strong" and "Friday Night Lights." The new album is another step forward, he says.

"I feel like I've progressed in my work, and I've gotten better," he argues. "I've always gone in the studio and tried to make the best record I could possibly make. But to come into a situation where there's some weight lifted, some refreshment going on, you can feel that in the music. I think you can feel the horses gallop on this record."

McGraw released the single "Truck Yeah" last year before the album's February release. "One of Those Nights" is the album's current single.

Tim McGraw

With Brantley Gilbert and Love and Theft

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Cruzan Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach

Cost: $42.50-$84.70


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