Garth Brooks performs onstage at the 42nd Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in New York.
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BLAME IT ALL ON MY ROOTS
Garth Brooks (Pearl)
Garth Brooks offers fans a Christmas gift with a discount-priced box set that takes another look back rather than moving forward.
"Blame It All On My Roots" is a massive, eight-disc package. Four CDs are devoted to the Oklahoman covering classic songs from country, rock, soul, and acoustic singer-songwriters. Two CDs are a previously available greatest-hits double disc set and two DVDs present a recorded concert in Las Vegas and most of his old music videos.
The covers lean heavy on songs nearly every listener will know, giving it a Garth-does-karaoke feel. "Heard It Through the Grapevine," ''Sweet Home Alabama," ''Great Balls of Fire," and "Mrs. Robinson" are among the choices — songs still heard across America daily on the radio. There's not a song among the 40 new cuts that presents a lesser-known song important to Brooks.
As would be expected, Brooks connects best with the country covers: His version of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" and a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on "After the Fire Is Gone" deserve airplay.
On the other hand, the soul songs suffer from canned arrangements and from Brooks straining to bring Wilson Pickett-style growls and grunts to vocals that are otherwise serviceable, but never remarkable. The Nashville studio musicians do better at injecting life into classic rock and the songwriter albums, staying exceedingly faithful to the originals.
Brooks' fans, a faithful bunch, will enjoy hearing their hero sing these familiar songs. But will it bring him any new fans, expand his audience, or help him find new glory more than a decade after his retirement? That will have to wait for his return to recording original material.
— MICHAEL MCCALL,
LIFE, LOVE & HOPE
Give Ottawa Hillls native Tom Scholz credit for knowing one of the core tenets of business success: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
On Boston's first album in 11 years, and the first since the tragic death of legendary vocalist Brad Delp in 2007, the band sticks with its tried-and-true sound, one that has come to nearly define the classic rock genre.
From the first time the world heard "More Than a Feeling" in the 1970s, Boston burned its way into rock's DNA with an identifiable sound: layer upon layer of guitars, harmonic solos, and angelic vocals backing Delp, who could hit notes only dogs could hear.
There's an unreleased Delp track here, "Sail Away," about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and it's the only one of the three Delp tracks on this album that's new. Two others — "Someone" and "Didn't Mean to Fall in Love" appeared on the band's "Corporate America" album, but Scholz was never really happy with them and has rebuilt them from top to bottom while keeping the original Delp vocals.
Other songs don't fare as well, including "If You Were in Love" with Kimberley Dahme's nothing-special vocals. "Heaven on Earth," with David Victor singing lead could be a hit single — that is, if all the Boston fans who were "Smokin'" in the ’70s remain loyal to a group who helped define what rock and roll sounded like for many years.
— WAYNE PARRY,
Bill O'Connell and The Latin Jazz All-Stars (Savant)
Pianist-arranger Bill O'Connell shows his chops as a composer capable of blending traditional jazz and Latin sounds into a disc that is at times romantic, upbeat, thought-provoking, high-octane, and just unpredictable enough to be fun.
Jazz borrows from Latin and vice versa, so the bar has been set high for O'Connell to offer something distinctive, which he does while staying within the realms of each genre and finding that sweet spot between the two. He gets an assist from The Latin Jazz All-Stars, which include trombone great Conrad Herwig, along with saxman Steve Slagle, bassist Luques Curtis, drummer Adam Cruz and percussionist Richie Flores.
The disc has a big sound to it, even with a relatively small combo, and is a combination of originals and a couple of re-invented standards.
— TOM HENRY