My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘In Pieces’

Garth In PiecesStarting with No Fences, Garth Brooks achieved a level of sales that had previously been unheard of in country music. It propelled him to international superstardom, and the pressure on him and producer Allen Reynolds to sustain that level of success must have been overhwhelming. Having reached a significant number of people outside the usual country music audience, it was perhaps inevitable that he would tailor his sound to accomodate them. As a result, his albums became increasingly eclectic — and inconsistent in quality. This trend began with 1992’s The Chase and continued with 1993’s In Pieces.

The album spawned five singles, two of which reached #1. The first was “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘Til The Sun Comes Up”, a Garth co-write with Kent Blazy and Kim Williams. Though it was more country than most of the singles from The Chase, it has more of a rock edge than his earlier work, and while I don’t intensely dislike the song, it’s not one of my favorites. It was followed by another #1 hit, “American Honky Tonk Bar Association”, which is aimed squarely at the country audience. It’s meant to be in the same vein as “Friends In Low Places”, but tries a little too hard and lacks the charm of that earlier hit. “Standing Outside the Fire” is better, though I still wouldn’t rank it among Garth’s best work.

“One Night A Day”, written by Gary Burr and Pete Wasner is one of Garth’s least country-sounding songs. Completely lacking in country instrumentation, the piano and saxophone-led track leans towards jazz and seems to have been an attempt at a crossover hit. It did not chart outside the country charts, where it peaked at #7. While some artists can successfully pull off an occasional venture beyond the confines of country music, Garth Brooks, to my mind, has never been one of them. He seems to have thought otherwise, as he tended to test the non-country waters fairly regularly. I’ve never thought that his voice or delivery were particularly suited to this type of song. He seems equally out of his comfort zone on the bluesy “Kickin’ and Screamin'”.

The album’s final and best single is a cover version of the Dennis Linde-penned “Callin’ Baton Rouge”. Originally recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys in 1978, it was later covered by New Grass Revival, who released it as a sigle in 1989. Their version peaked at #37, but Garth’s version, on which members of New Grass Revival sang and played, reached #2. It is one of the two great tracks on the album, the other being the album’s closing track, “The Cowboy Song”, a low-key number that is much more suited to Garth than some of the overblown power-ballads he seemed so fascinated with during this phase of his career.

“The Red Strokes”, while not released as a single in the US, became Garth’s biggest hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at #13 on the British pop charts. It’s not surprising that one of his more pop-leaning recordings was successful in a country not normally known for embracing country music, but artistically, the track is one of his poorer efforts.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with this album when it was first released, and was somewhat surprised to find that I like it a lot better now than I did then. However, that says more about the current state of country music than it does about the current state of country music than it does about the quality of this album. I’m tempted to say that it’s worth downloading “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and “The Cowboy Song” and skipping the rest, but this is Garth Brooks we’re talking about, so single-track downloads aren’t an option. Pick up a cheap used copy if you haven’t heard this one.

Grade: B

6 responses to “Album Review: Garth Brooks – ‘In Pieces’

  1. Jonathan Pappalardo November 13, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association” is horribly dated. The production sounds like it was crafted from a generator that spits out generic honky tonk style country music. Travis Tritt fell victim to this, too, around the same time.

    I like “Standing Outside The Fire” a bit more than you do, and always found it an accomplishment when I could finally keep the pace with the rapid-fire lyric of “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till The a Sun Comes Up).”

  2. Leeann Ward November 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Jonathan, I assume you’re referring to Travis Tritt’s “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man”? I like that song a lot and think it’s better than “American Honky Tonk Association.” I liked it a lot as a teen, but grew less enchanted with it as an adult for some reason. I like this album a lot more than you do, Razor, but would still only give it a B+. The way that you’ve described it, I would’ve thought that your grade would be a B- or C.

  3. Paul W Dennis November 16, 2014 at 1:42 am

    This wasn’t my favorite Garth album, but I still pull it out and play it occasionally. “Calling Baton Rouge” is a killer track (and it was a killer track for the New Grass Revival) – I’d grade it as a solid B

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