NEW YORK – Of all the twangers in Nashville, Tim McGraw is one of the most down to earth. He's a gentleman and a class act, but if you're looking for a fight, there's one sure way to light his fuse . . .
Bad-mouth the work of his equally famous wife, Faith Hill.
McGraw told The New York Post, "Critics who attack my wife bug me. It makes me want to pay 'em a visit so I could give 'em a good punch in the nose."
But he's more thick-skinned about his own work: "I don't care what they say about me, but it bothers me when they're mean to her."
Not that McGraw gets much flak about his own work. So far, he's managed to sell 25 million albums, from which he's culled 19 No. 1 singles.
He says he considers Tuesday's upcoming release, Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, "the best record I've ever done," adding, "It sounds real. It sounds soulful."
On Wednesday, McGraw has an hour-long TV special airing on NBC called Sing Me Home, when he returns to his boyhood hometown in Louisiana to play a concert.
He also has a book in the racks, another book set for publication in 2003, and there are rumors he will trade on his good looks for the movies.
Post: In many ways, it seems that country music is in crisis and without direction. Is that the case?
McGraw: I try not to worry about other people's music. But if there's one thing that I hear these days, it's that people try and put [music] down so tight that they take all the color out of it. But there's more artists coming around to making music that crosses borders.
Post: That's one of your tricks. When you sing, you often cross into rock.
McGraw: It's not a conscious effort. That's the music I grew up on, so it doesn't surprise me that you hear it.
Post: In your book, you say you're always juggling confidence and doubt. You've sold 25 million albums. It's hard to believe you have doubts.
McGraw: It's like this: You can be the greatest thing around, but it always comes down to "What have ya done for me lately?" Maybe it isn't self-doubt, but I do worry if people are gonna like the music.
Post: That doesn't sound like a veteran musician.
McGraw: It's become easier as time's gone on. First, I have to like the record. It's real important that other people like it, but I have to satisfy me. When you try to take care of the radio people and the record company first, that's when the doubts really slip into your head.
Post: How is this album different from your past work?
McGraw: I think you're hearing me with total honesty, with my band.
Post: What do you mean, with your band?
McGraw: The musicians you hear are the guys in my band -- not studio musicians. That's the way records are done in Nashville, L.A. and New York. These guys have worked with me for years. They aren't like family; they are family.
Post: Could you describe this album?
McGraw: It's like a bowl of hot soup on a cold day. It has a comforting quality. It's relaxed.
Post: According to gossip reports, next year you're going to be writing another book, this time on fatherhood. You have three daughters. What are you going to say?
McGraw: I'm a real honest-to-goodness father. I've changed diapers and done all the stuff fathers do. But this book isn't going to be advice. It'll tell some of my experiences.
Post: You have no advice? What happens when your daughter says, "Hey pop, I want a tattoo just like yours."
McGraw: I'd say, "No way!" I know I got a few tattoos, but I'm a guy. Seriously, the best advice I have for most fathers, especially when you're in a house full of girls, is shut up and listen.