He'll probably never get much funkier than "Friends in Low Places." Nobody wants him to get down there in the scuffle with Hank Williams Jr. But a slightly grittier Garth muscles his way through this album. There's another pleasant surprise too: a touching new Christmas song, Brooks and Joe Henry's "Belleau Wood."
For the most part, of course, Garth is his basic, mainstream, white-bread self, performing a sweet if sterile duet with the similarly mainstream Trisha Yearwood, "In Another's Eyes," and even tempering the meaning of "two-fisted drinker" on "Two Piña Coladas," a song that comes perilously close to Jimmy Buffett's precious territory. Occasionally he gets almost honky-tonkish—with the Steve Wariner-Rick Carnes tune "Longneck Bottle" and on "Cowboy Cadillac," a song that celebrates Nashville's favorite auto brand. "Belleau Wood," inspired by a real World War I incident in which German and American troops in Belgium improvised a battlefield truce on Christmas Eve, has a quiet, reflective tone appropriate for the holiday (and Brooks is smart enough not to try singing in German).
What with Brooks's Central Park concert in Manhattan last summer and this CD, it seems he's trying to inject some new sparks into his and his fans' lives. Can't hurt. (Capitol)