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Garth Brooks “The Ultimate Collection” Reviewed

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If we can now conclude that the Red States are not just the deplorables, but tea partiers, deplorables and a blue collar middle class increasingly worried about their future, than Garth Brooks is the patron saint of the Red States. He is like Bruce Springsteen from the other side, Bob Seger as middle class gadabout., the King of a type of country that only exists in the world of Brooks, or rock, or country, or all three. Garth harkens to the 80s, to that middle ground whiteness that is the antithesis of Kid Rock’s redneck racism. Garth Brooks is running against the wind into the place where country and rock meets. You can call him a racist and it still won’t stick; he is as racist as John Mellencamp, as country as George Jones, as rock as the Stones and as Americana as Jason Isbell. Between his 9-11, complicated shadows  anthem “The Change” and his  uncomplicated call to disarm “Honky Tonk Somewhere”, Garth Brooks stakes a claim to a world we claimed wasn’t there… but was there. Mixing rock with country, but not like the Byrds, his rock sensibility is harder, more 70s, The ballads can drag, but the rockers rock, and he has a vision of life which is where white people aren’t terrible, just used up.

This year’s release Gunslinger is a goodie, a ten song sprint down Brooksland, it holds up great on the rockers but it doesn’t run out of steam on the ballads, and if you pick it  as part of the 10 CD Ultimate Collection, it tops you off with “Friends In Low Places” -either Brooks sense of conceptual closed circuitry  or he couldn’t decide where else to stick it, and that, plus another newbie (which didn’t make it onto Amazon -the only other place to hear Brooks on record), “Sugarcane” makes the Ultimate Collection the way to listen to it, That CD is a double, Gunslinger one CD, R.P.M the other. R.P.M. claims to be the fast on its feet side of Garth, and it is a pleasant collection of songs for sure, but it is hardly light on its feet, The second song, “She’s Tired Of The Boys” is one of those singer songwriterly songs Garth pulls off with power, but it ain’t even slightly dancy.  “Addicted To Love” yes, “Doctor My Eyes” not so fast, And so we hit a bump in the review of Garth Brooks November released The Ultimate Collection, a follow up to 2007’s multi-platinum The Ultimate Hits.

The Ultimate Hits featured 34 songs, The Ultimate Collection has 120 songs, but they both are a little difficult, seemingly following their muse all the way to the record store. That lack of a true sensibility, the randonmness of the entire enterprise, on Hits didn’t matter, Collection is just too unwieldy not to matter. Old School are old songs, with Garth a little more country and a very credible version of “White Lightning” to prove it, but zero context, Midnight Fire are love ballads, a fine take on Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” and a duet with his (second)wife Trisha Yearwood are highlights, Cowboys includes the words cowboys a lot but it sure aint Western and Roy Rogers won’t be cheering him on. It is all twang. As live album goes, what the fuck is The Road? Some of it is from “Garthstock” -Brooks at Central Park in 1997, and some of it isn’t. If it was mean to relive the live show, where was “Friends”? It doesn’t really feel like a live album, there isn’t much chatter, and it is taken from lots of different places. Plus the ballads are kinda sucky, “It’s Your Song” is painful. Anthems includes some biggies, “The Dance”, “The Change”, “the River” -still, why put em like that, right? The Covers is very roots telling, from Simon and Garfunkle to Lynrd Skynrd to Cat Stevens, this is like your Grandpas favorites: the  part of the world Garth comes from and informs his work as much as George Jones. Billy Joel is like his mentor, “Standing Outside The Fire” sounds like a Joel cover itself, though what we do get is “Goodnight Saigon”(and “New York State of Mind” on the live double). Finally, Turn It Up (as opposed to R.P.M.s one assumes), has a better version of “The Thunder Rolls” live one, the song a famous girl band got its name from “Dixie Chicken” and the awesome “You Wreck Me”.

Now, after a week of listening to the ten CDs, I am well sick of Garth. If ever a man defined less is more, it is Garth. He was born to be consumed in half hour bites, anymore and he feels like a whiner. That would be a problem any way, Gunslinger is only half an hour which is a major reason for its success, However, it is more of a problem because the albums don’t tell a musical story, they are shoehorned without shape while maybe a simple releasing of all his albums in one collection would be a much better way to do it. Garth has something like twelve albums, why not just put em together and release them in a package instead of throwing em up in the air and letting the songs fall where they might. Part of the problem might be that ten year retirement (“At least until my daughter graduates from High School” he said) and part of it is a stickler for the money, there wasn’t enough money in doing it that way, but let me ask you. Wouldn’t you rather pay fifty bucks and just get the lot.

Garth isn’t an asshole, he isn’t a knee jerk anything, what he is is a representative of a certain white dreaminess, a certain not us against them, but us together with us. At his best Garth is probably the last old school country star, a rich smart man who does it in ways that go right against 2016 stream and scheme, but work for him. Musically, he is white r&b for people who can’t dance. You know, soul music. The Ultimate Collection isn’t great, I’ve never seen a box set hurt so badly by a lack of liner notes and a distressing organization of songs,  but the songs are great.

Grade: B

 

1 Comment

  1. Calvin on January 12, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Nice review in parts. Personally I could not care what order the songs are in . The collection was put together to be like a concert set list, not always how we would listen to them at home. Its the songs them selves that have made him a success.
    Not sure where racism comes into the mix or why you even mentioned it. Country music has a majority white audience always has, not just Garth Brooks but across the board. Country music seems to appeal that particular group of people. But Garths appeal seems to transend that, The crowds he draws to his live shows reflect the diverse appeal he has. Age, race, gender means nothing when you all love the same thing.Or there for the same reason.
    I believe the live album (The Road) is a mix of touring highlights , most artists would kill to sing with their idols or mentors. What may not seem all that important to us, maybe vital to him. A moment in his career where something changed in him as a result or well you see my point. Those live shows are nothing without the songs he is known for, The Dance , The River, Shameless, Unanswered Prayers these songs are Garth and would not be his show without them.
    RPM’s (music to drive to) To me its more the feel of a song rather than a tempo. A song can be slow but still have a strong beat or bass line, a catchy rythum. For example Gunslinger “He really love you” .A love song, not big on tempo but what an awesome feel. I have RPM’s going in the car and its great driving music, plus other stuff mixed in.
    Lets face its when all is said an done, the success he has had speaks for itself. RIAA certainly has no quarms nor does the Academy of Country Music, or the Grand Ole Opry. Not to mention the million of fans world wide. Not many artist I would travel to see or order their music online.
    This guy is one of only maybe 3. My only issue with the box set or the new Album is it was not available in New Zealand where i live. I had to order it online. By the time you pay shipping and so on, Its near on a 100 bucks.
    I have had it a little under a month and have listen to it a dozen times. Loved it the first time and still do. New Album is great reminds me of Sevens. The Box set is just flat out classic Garth all the way. What more could a true fan ask for.

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