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.
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid
a restless and fearless freak show
Eminem and Calvin couldn’t move Bey
summer’s entertainment is rewarded
compares the end of a romance to the end of life
House pure and simple