Country superstar Garth Brooks has laid all out for the entire world to hear (and see) with his new boxed set, Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences. The set, released exclusively through Walmart on Thanksgiving, takes fans on the musical journey that makes up Garth Brooks about those who have influenced his music from classic country to classic rock to rhythm and blues to singer-songwriters. The eight disc set contains 44 cover songs, 34 of his own hits, as well as a DVD of those same video hits, and a DVD of his One Man Show he’s done for the last three years at the Encore Theater in the Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
Brooks has been in a semi-retirement state since his last studio album Scarecrow was released in 2001 as he vowed to be a stay-at-home-dad to his three girls until they graduated from high school (the youngest graduates in 2014 when it’s speculated Brooks will make his comeback). However, that hasn’t stopped Brooks from releasing projects (including his second boxed set titled The Limited Series (2005), The Lost Sessions (2006), The Ultimate Hits (2007) and The Entertainer (2006), a five DVD set featuring four live concerts and a disc of video hits) or from performing a handful of benefit concerts with multi-night shows in Los Angeles, Nashville and Kansas City, along with the five-year-turned-three-year residency at the Wynn.
As it appears, Brooks has spent a good portion of 2013 recording the 44 songs found on this boxed set. As his youngest daughter is set to graduate in May 2014, I suspect Brooks spent the summer recording this project splitting time between his home in Oklahoma, doing the Wynn shows in Vegas and recording in his Music Row studio in Nashville. I also suspect, these 44 songs aren’t the only tracks he’s recorded in recent years. These just happen to be the only ones he’s released.
The cover songs on this boxed set are divided into four discs: Country Classics, Classic Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul (R&B) and Melting Pot for songs that don’t quite fit the other three categories. Each disc contains 11 tracks featuring some of music’s most notable tunes as well as some less notable tracks that some music fans, including myself, may have trouble identifying.
On Country Classics, Brooks covers country greats such as George Strait (“Unwound”), George Jones (“White Lightnin'”), Keith Whitley (“Don’t Close Your Eyes”), Merle Haggard (“Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down”), Jerry Reed (“Amos Moses”) Buck Owens (“Act Naturally”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls Of Fire”) and even enlists wife Trisha Yearwood to join him for a rousing rendition of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty’s “After The Fire Is Gone.” Brooks no doubt pays homage to each artist as many of the tracks are nearly identical to the original including vocals dips, exclaims and everything in between.
Many of the tracks sound as if they’re exact replicas of their original counterparts which is very hard to do but at times leaving the listener feeling underwhelmed by the lack of creativity. This happens on each disc throughout the set.
The CD in this set I was looking forward to hearing the most is Classic Rock where Brooks takes on many classic rock gems. The disc opens with Bob Seger’s “Against The Wind” which he puts the same amount of emotion in the right spots as Seger. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” has been covered by nearly everybody and is featured here but fares better than most other artists’ renditions even though I’d rather he replaced that song with something else less covered.
One of the more exciting tracks is The Eagles’ “Life In The Fast Lane” in which Brooks knocks out of the park even saying the same seven letter word Don Henley says that has never been heard in country music. I was wondering if he would substitute that word, but sure enough, he didn’t, and I’m kind of surprised, to be honest.
His take on Queen’s “Somebody To Love” is dead on, featuring all of the false setto and harmony parts like the original. Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is quite handsome as well as Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” that even features a helicopter sound fading in before the piano and vocals start. There are definitely some great covers on this disc and my favorite out of all of the new discs.
My least favorite disc would have to be Blue-Eyed Soul. I wasn’t too familiar with many of these songs yet I was expecting Brooks to make them a little more livelier than what is here. Sure, songs like “Shout” and “What I’d Say” are fun and attentive, but these tracks were not as outgoing in classic Brooks fashion as I had hoped. As this disc will be least listened to by me, there still are some good covers like “Drift Away” and “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” that will take you back in time to the 60s and 70s.
Melting Pot was the second CD I was most looking forward to hearing. It features an eclectic set of tracks that aren’t really identified by a genre. The Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” is very interesting, and as a fan of the original, I like what Brooks has done to it. The harmonies are outstanding and the instrumentation with the lead fiddle put me in another time and place. Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” is another track that works well. I’m not familiar with the original, but I do like Mr. Big’s classic rock version from the late 1980s, and was excited to hear Brooks do a good job on it as well.
“The Weight” by The Band was unexpected to me. It sounds a lot like the original with all of the harmony parts. Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” and Jim Croce’s “Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)” also sound like the original versions but are longstanding on the list of good cover songs.
The first disc I sprung for when I opened the set was the Live From the Wynn DVD. I never made it to Vegas to see one of these shows and wanted to experience it first hand. I was lucky enough to see Brooks during his three year world tour when it stopped in St. Louis in 1996 during his world tour. It was the final night of three performances there and the show was amazing! Having previously only seen Brooks from taped concert specials, I knew I was in for a treat as he rose from the piano and flew through the rafters and owned the stage.
However, I knew this DVD had captured a different side of Brooks. One that even the biggest fan, like myself, had never experienced until either attending one of the expensive Vegas shows or watching this DVD. Set in the very intimate Encore Theater at the Wynn Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Brooks takes the audience on a musical (and comedic) journey through his life which inspired this boxed set. Brooks tells stories of how his his dad’s love for Merle Haggard and George Jones and his mother’s taste for Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye have influenced his music while branching out on his own to James Taylor, Billy Joel and George Strait, among many others.
The concert also features wife and fellow country superstar Trisha Yearwood. Brooks introduces Yearwood about halfway through the two hour show. They banter and joke back and forth briefly before performing their 1997 hit “In Another’s Eyes.” Yearwood also performed her first single “She’s In Love With The Boy” before the two surprised the crowd with a brand new song entitled “The Call.”
The eerie lyrics of “I’m not (I’m not)/Supposed (supposed)/To call (to call)/You” reflect a darker tone for a couple so obviously in love with one another. Brooks states on the DVD that the song is new, and reminds him of his and Miss Yearwood’s relationship early on as they both were married to other people but still attracted to each other. The new track will surely end up on Brooks’ (and maybe Yearwood’s) next studio album which is expected in 2014. Or maybe their highly anticipated duets album. Let’s hope it appears one way or another.
Brooks doesn’t don his traditional cowboy hat during the first half of the show. Instead, he wears a “Garth Live From the Wynn” ball cap until Yearwood presents him with his cowboy hat. Ultimately, this causes the crowd to erupt loudly! Brooks swaps the ball cap with the cowboy hat and wears it for the rest of the show as he proceeds with performing mostly hits from his own catalog going forward. Of course, he ends with everyone’s favorite sing-a-long “Friends In Low Places” before bowing and walking off stage. He returns with an encore of Don McLean’s “American Pie.”
The final three discs are a reissue of Brooks’ 2007 two CD/one DVD compilation The Ultimate Hits. It features 30 of his biggest hits with four new tracks including the mega hit “More Than A Memory” and a cover of “Workin’ For A Livin'” with original artist Huey Lewis. The DVD features 33 music videos compiled with official videos, live videos, newly recorded videos and unreleased music videos to accompany the CD tracks.
The final thing I want to discuss is the packaging. This boxed set is packaged a little different than Brooks’ previous two sets, The Limited Series (1998) and The Limited Series (2005). This set is significantly thinner in width and shorter in length than the previous two, but is similar by packaging everything in a rectangular box. However, this set features all eight discs packaged in double jewel cases for a total of four jewel cases (the other two sets included six discs housed in individual jewel cases). Each of the individual album’s artwork grace the front and back sleeve of each jewel case with Classic Country (disc 1) and Melting Pot (disc 2) packaged together, The Ultimate Hits (discs 3 & 4) two CDs in one, Blame It All On My Roots: Live From the Wynn DVD (disc 5) and The Ultimate Hits DVD (disc 6) in another, and Classic Rock (disc 7) and Blue-Eyed Soul (disc 8) rounding out the discs. The track listing for each of the individual albums can be found on the flip side of each sleeve.
The booklet is the same length of the box but is either the same size as the books in the previous sets or slightly thicker. The front features another photo of Brooks in the same ball cap that he wears on stage at the Wynn. Unlike his previous two boxed sets, the booklet does not contain lyrics. Instead, it contains pictures and text written by Brooks. The text gives more detail about Brooks’ influences including more incite to most of the tracks featured in the set. The booklet is confusing though because none of the track descriptions follow the sequencing. However, each track is highlighted with the color of each disc: blue, green, yellow and orange.
Each jewel case contains a single double-sided cardboard sleeve for the front and a traditional double-sided tray card on the backside except for The Ultimate Hits CDs which include the full booklet with all lyrics (except for the bonus track of “Leave A Light On”) from its original pressing. The Live From the Wynn DVD is summarized on its inner sleeve while the track listing for The Ultimate Hits DVD is printed on the inside of the tray card.
With all the excitement about new but old music being released by Brooks, I have few disappointments about this set. I would have loved to hear Brooks take on a Chris LeDoux cover. “Cadillac Ranch” or “Copenhagen” would have suited Brooks’ voice to a T! After all, Brooks has collaborated with LeDoux in the past on “Whatcha Gonna Do With A Cowboy” and dedicated “Good Ride Cowboy” to the late singer after his untimely death from cancer in 2005 at the age of 56. Brooks has always cited LeDoux as a musical hero and has even based his stage shows after him along with rock legends KISS. A KISS long lacks from the set, too, but I wasn’t expecting one anyway given Brooks covered “Hard Luck Woman” on the 1994 compilation Kiss My Ass. The lyrics to the cover tracks would have also been nice since every Brooks release includes lyrics. Other than those minor things, I’m completely satisfied and feel it was worth dealing with the insane crowds on Thanksgiving just to pick up this set, among other things.
If it weren’t for any of the artists featured on this boxed set, we wouldn’t have the hits we know and love from Brooks such as “The River,” “The Dance,” “Tomorrow Never Comes” and “Friends In Low Places.” Hearing Brooks tell the origins of these songs makes me appreciate each song more! Plus, I got a little more in the booklet. I always heard him talk about his love for James Taylor, KISS, Chris LeDoux and George Strait, but I had no idea he was inspired by so many artists from so many genres. This set really rounds out who Garth Brooks is and why he does what he does! This is a definite must have for any Brooks fan, but will be a nice addition to any music lover who appreciates all styles.