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Garth Brooks

In Pieces [Bonus Track]

RS: 3of 5 Stars


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With Garth Brooks' fine new album comes no surprises; like his five previous ones, it offers 10 painstakingly chosen songs played unerringly. As ever, his voice – in either growl or quaver – is a vehicle of supple interpretive range. And as In Pieces glides from rock and swing to MOR ballads and cowboy fare, it proves again that today's country music is virtually anything Garth chooses to call country. A former Oklahoma State University advertising major, Brooks has sold 32 million albums since his 1989 debut; that he has managed to seem all things to all people attests to the savvy that In Pieces irrefutably displays.

But the record also shows that Brooks lacks the startling vocal chops of a George Jones and that his songs, while penned with some of Nashville's best writers, merely skirt the simple, undeniable grace of a Hank Williams. Instead, In Pieces reasserts that Brooks' triumph is one less of technique than of heart. Garth, like most mass successes, communicates a persona that feeds the hunger of crowds. Remote idols, such as Madonna and Michael Jackson, unleash fantasy; Brooks, a different kind of star, remains adamantly human, and his themes don't concern power or escape. Rather, he sings about prevailing with everyday moral heroism in the real world.

Not quite the manifesto that last year's The Chase was, In Pieces doesn't feature a multicultural anthem like "We Shall Be Free" or a defense of gender equality like "Somewhere Other Than the Night." Yet even though the politics are more personal, Brooks takes stands – for risky individualism ("Standing Outside the Fire") and paternal authority ("The Night I Called the Old Man Out"). In "American Honky-tonk Bar Association," saluting "the hard-hat, gun-rack, achin'-back, overtaxed, flag-wavin', fun-lovin' crowd," he flourishes a working-class allegiance. "The Cowboy Song" reprises his bittersweet romance with a mythic West, and "The Night Will Only Know," a true-crime snapshot, grapples with rape and suicide.

Recording with his usual ace studio crew, Garth rocks harder than he ever has, as on "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)"; again renders a debt to '70s singer/songwriters with the somewhat overlush "The Red Strokes"; and sashays neatly on the bluesy "One Night a Day." But his skill at crossing genres remains the least of his impressive strengths. Rather, as country's most generous representative, he offers consistent reasons for that music's powerful appeal – today, like no mainstream form other than rap, it sings the detailed stories of its listeners' lives.


(Posted: Oct 14, 1993)


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