My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Ropin’ The Wind’

ropin the windGarth’s third album was released in September 1991, with the artist at the peak of his commercial success. The first single, Larry Bastian’s ‘Rodeo’ was a portrait of a rodeo rider’s obsession with his pursuit of excitement over love. Delivered with an intensity and drama hovering on the edge of too much, it is pretty good, and peaked at #3.

A cover of Billy Joel’s pop hit ‘Shameless’ was to become one of Garth’s biggest hits. Despite not sounding remotely like a country song, Garth’s passionate vocal (backed by Trisha Yearwood’s harmony) and star status pushed it to #1.

Much, much better is ‘What She’s Doing Now’ (one of seven Garth co-writes on the album, but the first of them to be sent to radio. A gently sad reflection on a failed relationship and its continuing hold on the protagonist, with a string arrangement which sweetens it, this is a very good song. It had been previously recorded by Crystal Gayle with a gender twist in 1989, when she was well past her peak, but Garth’s own version hit the top of the charts. The similarly paced ‘Burning Bridges’ is another understated ballad (written by Garth with Stephanie Brown) which might serve as a prequel to it. This is the confession of a serial leaver, and shows Garth can be subtle. The style is perhaps more James Taylor than honky tonk, but it’s very palatable.

Next to radio was the punchy drama of ‘Papa Loved Mama’, written by Garth with Kim Williams. Telling the story of a trucker who kills his faithless wife and her lover by driving his rig into the motel she is staying at, it peaked at #3.

Papa loved Mama
Mama loved men
Now Mama’s in the graveyard
Papa’s in the pen

The same songwriting partnership, with the addition of Kent Blazy, produced the best song on the album in ‘Cold Shoulder’, the story of a lonely trucker missing his wife while on the road. A tasteful production helps make this a standout:

I wish I could hold her
Instead of hugging this old cold shoulder

The fifth and last single was #1 hit ‘The River’. Written by Garth with Victoria Shaw, it is one of his well meaning but slightly preachy earnest declarations of the importance of taking risks and living life to the full. It is quite pleasant and likeable, with an attractive arrangement.

‘In Lonesome Dove’, which Garth wrote with Cynthia Limbaugh, is a Western story song which is back to the drama but with a relatively low key reading which makes it all the more effective. It may have been inspired by the Western novel and TV drama of the same name, but the plot doesn’t seem to be the same.

‘We Bury The Hatchet’, written with Wade Kimes about a tumultous relationship, is playful western swing and quite entertaining. The lively up-tempo rebellious attitude of ‘Against The Grain’ came from bluegrass singer-songwriters Larry Cordle and Carl Jackson with Bruce Bouton, but doesn’t quite convince.

Not on the original record, but added to subsequent re-releases is ‘Which One Of Them’, a pretty good song about a heartbroken man pretending his one night stands are his lost love, as he muses wearily,

I’ve forgotten what’s wrong
Given up on what’s right

Ropin’ The Wind has sold over 14 million copies in the US alone, and a further 3 million worldwide, making it his biggest ever seller. Is it his best work? Not quite, but it’s not at all bad.

Grade: A-

8 responses to “Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Ropin’ The Wind’

  1. andythedrifter November 8, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Good review. I think this album was a slight step backwards from the previous two, but it is still very good overall. I’m of the opinion that Garth’s best songs tend to be obscure album cuts, and “Cold Shoulder” is proof positive of that. I also really like “Which One of Them,” “What She’s Doing Now”, “Papa Loved Mama”, and several others. I’ve never really been able to get into “Shameless,” either.

    • Razor X November 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      I also think it was a step backward and I was slightly disappointed in it when it was first released. I really did not like “Rodeo” at all when I first heard it, but it did grow on me a bit as time went on. The standout cut for me was “What She’s Doing Now”. “Papa Loves Mama” I thought was overdone and it is an example of something that has always annoyed me about Garth — how he mangles simple words like “men”. I’ve never understood that. “The River” I thought was weak and trite and not at all something that should have been released as a single. True, it went to #1, but Garth could have sung the Yellow Pages and taken it to #1 in those days. Overall, I probably would have rated this album slightly lower at a B+.

  2. luckyoldsun November 10, 2014 at 1:06 am

    I liked Garth’s version of “Shameless,” but I’d also make one small correction. It’s not quite accurate to call it a cover of Billy Joel’s “pop hit.” In fact, the song was a track on Billy Joel’s “Storm Front” album that came out in ’89, but it had never been released as a single. So Garth’s version was the first version of “Shameless” that most people ever heard. I think Joel’s label released a single version of the song a few YEARS later.

    Razor–
    You make a couple of points that I wholly agree with.

    When a song comes from a good writer, the listener is usually impressed by the plain honesty or verbal dexterity clever phrasing.
    “The River” is a terribly written song. Mixed metaphors–the writers shift from a boat in a river to birds in the sky; the climax contains clunky clichéd reference to “the good Lord as my captain.”
    I’ve got to give credit to Garth: At that stage in his career, he could turn bilge like that into a huge single. Victoria Shaw probably bought a mansion with the royalties she got for writing that.

    I liked the song “Papa Loved Mama,”–but I noticed, too that the record is marred by Garth’s seeming inability to pronounce the word “men.” But I guessed that the reason was that when Garth was recording it and he got to the line “Mama loved men,” the image of his own mother kept coming into his mind and he could not get himself to say it. So it comes out as “Mama loved muhhheahh!.”

  3. wiley16350 November 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I don’t get where “The River” is a terrible lyric. It is written more like a rock song since it is more metaphoric rather than a straight forward lyric more typical to country music. The lyric is very good when understood. The main point of the song is about achieving what a person dreams or wishes to be.
    You know a dream is like a river – this is just a comparison. A dream flows on like the river without interruption until it reaches its destination.
    Ever changin’ as it flows – this is to say that the dream takes shape as time goes on or maybe that the journey will continuously change.
    And a dreamer’s just a vessel
    That must follow where it goes – The dreamer is one who must follow his dream no matter where it takes him or how he gets there. The dreamer has to follow his dreams, i.e. the river.
    Trying to learn from what’s behind you
    And never knowing what’s in store
    Makes each day a constant battle
    Just to stay between the shores – This is about following your dreams through the hardships despite not knowing if you’ll ever reach the destination. You learn from the mistakes you’ve made and the hardships you endured in an effort to reach your destination. The last line is about not getting out of “the river” where your dreams will pass you by.
    The Chorus
    I will sail my vessel – I will allow myself to follow my dreams
    Til the river runs dry – Until there is no more dreams left to follow or possibly until the destination is reached.
    Like a bird upon the
    These waters are my sky – A bird flying through the sky is seen as the ultimate freedom. A person in a river is seen as someone that is trapped and forced to go where the river wants him to go. Here the author is saying he is free in his dreams just as much as the bird is free in the sky even though he is forced to go with a flow that he can’t direct. He is free because he is following what he desires and not what others desire for him.
    I’ll never reach my destination
    If I never try – This is cut and dry, you’ll never achieve your dreams if you never attempt to go after them.
    Too many times we stand aside
    And let the waters slip away
    Til we what we put off til tomorrow
    Has now become today – This is saying we never put things into action to help achieve our dreams until it becomes too late. We say we’ll start tomorrow, but it never changes and every tomorrow just becomes another day of no action.
    So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
    And say you’re satisfied – This is saying that we shouldn’t just be satisfied with an o.k. life while watching our dreams pass us by.
    Choose to chance the rapids
    And dare to dance the tide – Be brave to fight the struggles and battles it will take to achieve your dreams and dare to resist the temptations to quit following your dreams.
    And there’s bound to be rough waters
    And I know I’ll take some falls
    But with the good Lord as my captain
    I can make it through them all – You know it won’t be easy and the journey will make you look foolish but with faith in God you know you can reach your destination.
    I don’t see how this can be seen as a terribly written song.

  4. Leeann Ward November 10, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    For the longest time, I had no idea what Garth was saying when he sang “men” in “Papa Loved Mama.” Strange reasoning, LOS, on why he mangles that word. While I doubt that’s the reason, distorting words is certainly a problem that Garth has had. I used to love “The River”, but it has felt more Disney-esque in the last few years to me.

    • luckyoldsun November 11, 2014 at 2:36 am

      Leann
      I don’t think it’s all that strange. I think I might have trouble singing that line.
      Garth sings every other word clearly but simply cannot seem to pronounce the last word in the line “Mama loved men.” And the same thing happens when the chorus is repeated. And the record producer left it that way, so evidently redoing it was futile.

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