Garth Brooks, "Blame It All on My Roots" (Pearl)
Garth Brooks offers fans a Christmas gift with a discount-priced box set that takes another look back rather than moving forward.
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"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.