GARTH BROOKS, 'Blame It All on My Roots' (Pearl, six CDs/two DVDs, $25) | The country star's bargain box, his second exclusively for Walmart, delivers four discs of cover songs.
Garth Brooks' new box set features includes plenty of hits - most of them originally sung by other people. Of the eight discs in Blame It All on My Roots, which went on sale at Walmart on Thursday, four consist of covers - the country superstar's first new studio recordings in six years.
Called Country Classics, Classic Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul and Melting Pot, the discs show the confluence of country, pop, folk and rock that went into shaping the musical style of a man who has sold more albums than anyone besides The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Those discs contain 44 remakes spanning from 1952 (Hank Williams' Jambalaya) to 1988 (Keith Whitley's Don't Close Your Eyes). Few Brooks fans will be shocked that he pays tribute to James Taylor, Jim Croce and George Strait, or that his favorites include Billy Joel and Bob Dylan, whose catalogs have provided him material in the past. Perhaps more surprising are the only two singers who have two hits among Brooks' covers: Gladys Knight (I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Midnight Train to Georgia) and Paul Rodgers (All Right Now, Bad Company).
Brooks has been singing several of these songs during his four-year solo residency at the Wynn Las Vegas, and his final show there airs Friday (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/PT). While these remakes may not replace Brooks' hits Friends in Low Places, The Thunder Rolls and If Tomorrow Never Comes in his fans' hearts, we've listened to the new discs and come up with our favorites.
- Fishin' in the Dark. If there's any track among the 44 covers on Blame It All on My Roots that amounts to more than scraping the rust off and signals a direction new material might take, it's probably this remake of a 1987 No. 1 country hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Thematically, it fits with what current stars like Luke Bryan and Jake Owen are singing, while musically, it's a logical extension of early Brooks hits such as Callin' Baton Rouge and Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House.
- Don't Close Your Eyes. Keith Whitley hit No. 1 with this ballad in 1988, just as Brooks' career as a recording artist was starting to ramp up. Listening to Brooks' version, it's easy to imagine the song sequenced into his 1990 debut album with the likes of The Dance and If Tomorrow Never Comes.
- Midnight Train to Georgia. Georgia writer Jim Weatherly also wrote several country hits, so this song is right in Brooks' sweet spot. The arrangement is heavily influenced by Gladys Knight & the Pips' 1973 hit, but Brooks takes more liberty with his vocals. Even better, Brooks brings a new context to the song as he turns it into a love triangle, singing, "She'd rather live in his world than live without him in mine."
- Black Water. This is exactly the sort of highly stylized, overly familiar song that shouldn't have worked for Brooks, especially since his version takes nearly every one of its sonic cues from the Doobie Brothers' 1974 original. But the strengths of Brooks' style so perfectly match the song's best qualities that the marriage of the two works perfectly.
- You Ain't Goin' Nowhere. Returning to the Dylan repertoire makes sense for Brooks, since he took To Make You Feel My Love to No. 1 on the country charts in 1998. It's less intuitive that he'd go to this particular song, a single for the Byrds in 1968, three years before Dylan released his original. Pedal-steel guitarist Paul Franklin is as much the star of this honky-tonk shuffle as Brooks is, and it features the smooth country-rock harmonies that show up throughout these covers.
- After the Fire Is Gone. Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood step into the shoes of Conway Twitty and Loretta for a remake of their 1971 Grammy winner, with impressive results.
- Unwound. George Strait, who launched his career in 1981 with this Dean Dillon/Frank Dycus single, is Brooks' most obvious, immediate predecessor. Is it any wonder the song suits Brooks perfectly as well?
- Act Naturally. Brooks probably has a soft spot for this 1963 Buck Owens chart-topper because one of its writers, Johnny Russell, would be the person who first introduced him on the Grand Ole Opry stage. But it's not hard to hear what an impact Owens' singing had on Brooks' own style, especially as he scoops into the vowel sounds.
- Ain't No Sunshine. Bill Withers' 1971 hit allows Brooks to wallow in obsessive, introspective gloom - in other words, country singer nirvana.
- Shout. Sure, this rave-up, originally a hit for the Isley Brothers in 1959, would be even better live - like on the 2014 tour many people assume Brooks is planning. But this rollicking studio version's a blast, too, especially when Brooks shifts into halftime gospel mode.
Here's the track listing for the Blame It All on My Roots covers discs:
- Great Balls of Fire
- After the Fire Is Gone (with Trisha Yearwood)
- Act Naturally
- Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down
- Amos Moses
- Fishin' in the Dark
- Good Ole Boys Like Me
- White Lightning
- Don't Close Your Eyes
- Black Water
- Mrs. Robinson
- Maggie May
- Who'll Stop the Rain
- Wild World
- Doctor My Eyes
- The Weight
- Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)
- You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
- Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
- Against the Wind
- Sweet Home Alabama
- Life in the Fast Lane
- Somebody to Love
- Bad Company
- Midnight Rider
- All Right Now
- Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
- Addicted to Love
- Goodnight Saigon
Blue Eyed Soul
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine
- Midnight Train to Georgia
- Hold On, I'm Coming
- Ain't No Sunshine
- Drift Away
- Stand by Me
- I Never Loved Someone the Way I Love You
- Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
- Lean on Me
- What'd I Say