Curb Records on Friday filed a breach-of-contract suit in Davidson County Chancery Court against Tim McGraw in relation to McGraw's recording agreement with the label.
At issue is what's referred to as the 12 masters for the "Emotional Traffic" album that McGraw delivered to Curb in October of last year. Curb alleges in the complaint, which was obtained by Billboard, that McGraw recorded the album too early prior to its delivery "in a transparent tactic to attempt to fulfill his contractual recording commitment to Curb prematurely in breach of the recording agreement."
Curb's position in the suit is that McGraw's recordings must be "topical and new" and that the artist had agreed that each new album would be recorded "no earlier than 12 months and no later than 18 months" following the delivery of the previous album. The suit alleges McGraw began recording "Emotional Traffic" tracks "in 2008 or before," prior to the allowable period under contract, according to Curb.
Curb has been the only label home for McGraw, who released his eponymous first album in April of 1993; his first single, "Welcome to the Club," came in '92. In recent years, McGraw has been outspoken about his frustration with his label deal and his belief that he owed Curb just one more album after his most recent studio LP, "Southern Voice," released on Oct. 20, 2009.
McGraw told Billboard in an interview around the time "Southern Voice"  was released that it was recorded in the fall of 2007. Asked about the delay in the album's release, McGraw replied, "You're from Nashville, you know about Curb Records. They had three greatest-hits records out or something like that [between 2007's 'Let It Go' and 'Southern Voice']. I thought ['Voice'] was coming out a lot quicker than it did, then the greatest hits records kept dropping. I've got one record left on this label, and I can't help but think that it was a stall tactic to add another year to my contract."
Curb has frequently released compilations between albums of new material ("Emotional Traffic" would be McGraw's 11th studio album). Between 2006 and 2010, Curb put out several variations on hits packages, the most recent being "Number One Hits" last November. Jay S. Bowen, partner at Bowen & Unger, PLC, the Nashville law firm representing Curb in the suit, told Billboard.biz, "Curb has released three greatest-hits albums and one number-ones album in the 20-year history of the relationship."
In a keynote Q&A at the Billboard Country Summit last June, McGraw  thanked Curb for signing him and jump-starting his career, but reiterated his thoughts that his next album, which he said he'd recorded but not mixed, would be his last for Curb.
"I've had a great career [but] it's time for a change," he said. "I think I've earned that." He also weighed in on the multiple hits compilations from Curb: "It's sort of taking advantage of people," he said.
The suit seeks undisclosed damages and a sixth "option period" record, as well as "injunctive relief preventing him from agreeing to provide, or providing, his personal services as a recording artist for the benefit of parties other than Curb Records until he has fulfilled his duties and obligations under the Recording Agreement."
In response to the suit, a spokesperson from the McGraw camp gave Billboard this statement: "Sadly, after a 20-year relationship which has provided unprecedented success for both parties, Curb Records has chosen to end its accord with Tim McGraw by filing suit against him. Tim McGraw delivered his new album, 'Emotional Traffic,' to Curb in the fall of 2010. The label is holding the album hostage from country music fans in an attempt to force Tim McGraw to serve perpetually under a contract that he has already fully and faithfully completed. The only song Curb has released from the album, 'Felt Good on My Lips,' was a multi-week Number 1 hit.
"Although Curb has not released the album, Tim McGraw has decided to perform new songs from 'Emotional Traffic' on his current tour because he feels it is one of his best ever," the statement continues. "Most importantly, Tim McGraw wants to thank his fans for their continued support in his efforts to release new and exciting music."
McGraw attorney Rusty Jones of the Nashville firm Harris, Martin & Jones, told Billboard regarding the suit, "We are going to respond vigorously and promptly."
Jay S. Bowen of Bowen & Unger, the Nashville law firm representing Curb, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit. Representatives for Curb Records declined Billboard's request for comment.