Picks and Pans Review: Set This Circus

updated 05/07/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/07/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Down Tim McGraw (Curb)

There's a little bit of Merle Haggard in Tim McGraw's voice. Unfortunately there's a little bit of the Backstreet Boys too, as McGraw's vocal colorings on these 14 tracks range from mewling boy band to depressed Kurt Cobain, with too few stops in Haggard country.

"Forget About Us," which is rueful but not maudlin and gets bolstered by a striking backup vocal by McGraw's wife, Faith Hill, is one of his finest songs, while the title track effectively takes up the narrator's search for roots. But "Grown Men Don't Cry" is a hypersentimental New Age sensitive-guy tune, and such songs as "Unbroken" kill the mood with incongruous heavy-metal guitar licks. And what's with the 22-page insert detailing McGraw's supposedly angst-ridden life on the road? More Merle and less Melville, please.

Bottom Line: McGraw at his best—and worst

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