Old Garth often seems inordinately angst ridden for a country singer, and recently even toyed with the notion of hangin' up his hat for good. But not only has he not retired, this album may be more fun than anything he's done. He goes nearly gospel ("We Shall Be Free"). He recalls Patsy Cline (with a welcome version of the Alan Black—Don Hecht classic "Walking After Midnight"). He welcomes counterpart Trisha Yearwood for some harmonizing—though, unhappily, they never get around to a full-fledged duet. Garth goes cowboy ("Night Rider's Lament"). And he even yodels ("Dixie Chicken").
None of this sinks to the level of the Hank Jr. celebration of Bubba-tude found in Garth's "Friends in Low Places," on 1990's No Fences. Yet Brooks earns some smiles and establishes his versatility more solidly.
It may say something about Brooks's priorities that the credits for this album include as many people responsible for "merchandise" as for playing musical instruments. Even so, the results are a lot of fun to listen to, and Brooks finally sounds as if he's having a good time. Party on, Garth. (Liberty)