Garth Brooks

Capitol Nashville, 2001

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Scarecrow, Garth Brooks' first album of new material following a four-year period that saw him try on not one but two alternate personas -- professional baseball player and popstar Chris Gaines -- was the last gasp of an amazing run. He had almost single-handedly rescued country music from irrelevance with his theatrical concerts and crossover musical stylings, introducing the music he loved to new fans around the world. But the cost was high -- he'd also experienced a significant backlash from the change-averse country community, and his marriage to high school sweetheart Sandy Mahl had, after some very public ups and downs, ultimately failed.

The fact that Brooks packed it in after Scarecrow, announcing he wouldn't record or tour again until after his youngest child graduates from high school sometime next decade, might suggest this album is a disaster. It isn't. It is in fact a resolutely, beyond-any-doubt mediocre Garth Brooks album, which in itself might have been reason enough to call a timeout for an artist with ambitions the size of Brooks'.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One thing strikes a reviewer right off the top of the booklet: Brooks' co-writes are down to five, the least found on any album in his catalog. The results are a tad looser and more playful than some of his other albums, but also betray his reduced attention to and interest in making new music.

That said, Brooks picked up the best number here -- "Beer Run" -- from frequent collaborators Kim Williams and Kent Blazy, and it was a smart move. It's this album's "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association," a kicky tune that's made extra-special by the sheer fun that Brooks and his duet partner George Jones have with the witty lyric.

"Why Ain't I Running" is a solid mid-tempo album-opener, a well-crafted bout of self-analysis about running away from intimacy. On that same introspective bent, "Thicker Than Blood" might be Brooks' most personal song since "If Tomorrow Never Comes," a heartfelt love letter to his blended-and-extended family. It's that background that gives lines like "Blood is thicker than water / But love is thicker than blood" real weight.

Brooks shows a little of his vaunted range on the lilting, terrific bluegrass number "Don't Cross The River" (guest starring Bela Fleck) and the rather Celtic-sounding "Pushing Up Daises," but otherwise he plays it safer in terms of styles here than he has in years (call it the Chris Gaines effect).

"The Storm" is the album's unfortunate low point, an overwrought ballad that rehashes themes Brooks has explored repeatedly, combining the liquid metaphorical sensibilities of "The Thunder Rolls" and "The River" and ending up with abysmal lines like "She's drowning in emotions and she cannot reach the shore."

The remainder of the album is highlighted by a cheeky little number about rich relatives with dangerous lines of work ("Big Money") and a fun if rather weightless duet with the woman who would become the second Mrs. Garth, Trisha Yearwood ("Squeeze Me In").

In the end, Scarecrow is neither great nor terrible. It's more or less just another Garth Brooks album, which seems to have been the last straw for the man called GB... for now.

Rating: B-

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© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Nashville, and is used for informational purposes only.