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For the second straight summer, Gracie, Maggie and Audrey McGraw are spending their vacation in a bus with Mom and Dad, singers Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.


But next summer, their mother says, at least one parent will stay home with the girls, ages 5 to 10.


This will be the last joint tour for country music’s leading couple “for quite some time,” Hill says from the family’s home near Nashville. “Our girls are getting older, and being home is just something that they’re going to want to do in the summer.”


The 2006 installment was one of the year’s biggest tours and one of country music’s most successful ever.


The Soul2Soul show gives these two very different performers, who married in 1996, a chance to sing their many solo hits with their own bands, as well as to join together on duets such as “Like We Never Loved at All” and “It’s Your Love.” Hill, a classic beauty with a technically flawless voice, performs first, singing tunes that often owe as much to straight-ahead pop as to country. McGraw plays second, mixing rowdy country rockers and uplifting anthems while tirelessly slapping hands with the exuberant crowd.


McGraw remains one of country’s hottest acts, while Hill’s star “absolutely” has faded a bit. Her single “Lost,” a new ballad from her coming “The Hits” compilation, failed to crack Billboard’s country Top 30 this summer.


“I think, interestingly enough, in country she’s known more as Tim McGraw’s wife than she is as Faith Hill,” says San Jose radio station KRTY general manager Nate Deaton.


A new crop of female stars, led by Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, has eclipsed Hill and her 40-ish peers, such as Martina McBride and Shania Twain, on the charts. Many saw Hill’s over-the-top reaction to Underwood’s first female-vocalist win at the Country Music Association Awards in November as a blatant display of sour grapes.


Hill insists her look of furious disbelief, replayed millions of times on YouTube, was a self-deprecating goof for the camera, and six months later she is clearly still upset about how it was perceived.


“That whole thing last year is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in my life, because I’m not that kind of person,” Hill says. “There’s so much footage of me acting goofy like that over my career. It blew my mind. I would never, ever, ever do something like that to someone to hurt her feelings.”


The only other time Hill becomes exercised is when the issue of Hurricane Katrina comes up. It’s an issue close to the couple’s hearts: Hill grew up in Mississippi, McGraw in Louisiana.


Although Hill has quietly supported Democratic candidates in the past, she rarely speaks publicly about political issues. But she made an exception last year when she used a barnyard epithet to describe the government response to the hurricane.


“The frustration! Anyone who visits that area, still to this day, ... would lose it. Your mind would explode, because there’s not a lot that has changed,” Hill says. She gives credit for the improvement that has occurred to people who have “come from around this country, volunteers, and made the place livable and bearable for the people down there.”


McGraw has spoken about running as a Democrat for public office in Tennessee in the future, but Hill insists that’s a long way off.


“It’s in the distant future, so it’s something that we don’t talk about in detail right now,” Hill says. “We’ve discussed it, but not to the extreme that we will need to if it ever happens.”


Both Hill and McGraw have found work in Hollywood—Hill in “The Stepford Wives,” McGraw in films such as “Friday Night Lights” and “Flicka.” Hill says she plans to pursue more opportunities, but she adds that she has plenty left to accomplish in Nashville.


“There’s a lot I want to do,” she says. “My career really is still pretty young, I think. I’ve only made nine albums in my 15-year career, so that’s not really a lot of albums yet.”


Hill sounds upbeat when asked about the milestone birthday that will arrive next month.


“I really have no choice but to turn 40,” she says good-naturedly. “I love it. I feel better with my age. I say bring it on, I’m ready.”

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