The Limited Series
arth Brooks has had an itch.
He’s been out of the game for a couple of years now, having retired to focus on being a stay-at-home dad to his three daughters. But he’s clearly wanted to get back into the game—that much was more than obvious, seeing Brooks interviewed in the recent CMT special Garth Brooks Unlimited—and still owed his record label one last boxed set, a companion to his 2000 6-disc The Limited Series. So he did what any 100-million-albums-selling giant of the music industry would do: he bought his masters from his record label (and bought himself out of his contract), signed an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart, and released another 6-disc box, also titled The Limited Series.
The first Limited box consisted of Brooks’s first six studio (and non-holiday) albums, each augmented by a bonus track. This one holds the 1997 album Sevens and 2001’s Scarecrow, along with the double live album, er, Double Live, an 80-minute DVD, All Access, and the real selling point of this collection, the new album The Lost Sessions. But is it more of the proverbial bang-for-buck?
Of the box’s previously released material, Sevens rates about a B-, definitely fair-to-middling Garth highlighted by the pretty (if somewhat generic) duet with his (now) new wife Trisha Yearwood on “In Another’s Eyes.” His last studio album, Scarecrow, is far better, a solid A- due to its being simultaneously more pop (mainly in its great songwriting) and more country (instrumentation and attitude) in a way that only the biggest of the big (cf. Shania) seem to pull off. It helps that this one’s got an even better Yearwood duet, not a ballad but a don’t-keep-your-hands-to-yourself barroom romp, “Squeeze Me In.” Double Live is the closest thing we’ve got to a Garth best-of (particularly since the all-too-short single disc The Hits went out of print), and in that regard, it works nicely. Call it a B+.
The Lost Sessions, to hear Brooks tell it, is a collection of songs which had been sitting in his vaults in various stages of not-finished-ness, which he completed for inclusion (i.e. bait) on this new boxed set. He’s been very busy lately informing any and everyone that he’s still retired, that the release of this new material does not mark a return to his career; to that effect, there’s only one truly new song here, the Chris LeDoux tribute “Good Ride Cowboy.” It’s a great single, a raucous, fiddle-soaked cut that does the late LeDoux (long Garth’s performing idol) proud (its “just LeDoux it” refrain is cringe-worthy, to be sure, but also makes for fine singalongs).
Yearwood adds her velvety backing vocals to a number of tracks, as does Alison Krauss on the ballad “For A Minute There” and Martina McBride on the almost-a-rocker “I’ll Be The Wind.” McBride, unfortunately, is underused, just tossing in a few backing lines on a song which doesn’t really suit her (Yearwood would’ve made much more sense here), and Krauss’s delicate voice makes an oil-and-water matchup with Brooks. “Wind” is followed by “My Baby No Esta Aqui,” a misguided attempt at a kind of Anglo tejano which is, basically, a disaster. “Alison Miranda” is classic story-song of the type at which Garth normally excels, and he does—until the song’s punch line, an icky gender twist on Heart’s execrable “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You.”
There are a few other standouts here (“Fishin’ in the Dark”) and a few that, um, aren’t (the inexplicably odd, and awful “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream), but overall The Lost Sessions feels like so many albums of its type do, sadly half-baked. (When’s the last time you pulled out a copy of Prince’s The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale, for instance?) With the notable exception of “Good Ride Cowboy,” which could’ve been simply released as a download, this smacks of Michael Jordan coming back to play for Washington—an unnecessary attempt to reclaim some past glories at the glories’ own expense. The Lost Sessions, which rates a C at best, pulls the overall grade for The Limited Series down—and Garth gets docked as well for making his deal with the retail devil. If you really need the catalog titles contained herein, wait to find ‘em (or this entire set) used; this Limited Series isn’t worth it.