Garth Brooks ’ first album of new music in four years leads new country releases this week. Also out are new collections by Irish-born singer Maura O’Connell and Colorado bluegrass group The Yonder Mountain String Band.
Brooks’ Scarecrow (Capitol Nashville) may well be his last studio album, if his retirement announcements hold up. Produced by his regular collaborator Allen Reynolds, Scarecrow displays the kind of musical variety that has come to be Brooks’ hallmark.
The album is anchored by studio musicians Milton Sledge on drums, bassist Mike Chapman, acoustic guitarist Mark Casstevens, electric guitarist Chris Leuzinger, keyboardist Bobby Wood, steel guitarist Bruce Bouton, percussionist Sam Bacco and fiddler Rob Hajacos. Guest players also chime in, as on the current single, the Wayne Kirkpatrick-penned “Wrapped Up in You,” which carries a Beatlesque feel, propelled by Terry McMillan’s harmonica flirting with Jimmy Mattingly’s fiddling.
Brooks’ re-make of the Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver version of “Don’t Cross the River” boasts Dobro licks by Jerry Douglas , who also played on the Lawson original. Accordion player Joey Miskulin -– known for his work with Riders in the Sky -– plays on the Garth-George Jones duet “Beer Run” and on “Pushing Up Daisies.” The latter combines two songs — “Pushing Up Daisies” and “Life Down Here on Earth” — written by Gary Scruggs, John Hadley and Kevin Welch .
Many of Brooks’ favorite songwriters contribute tunes. Brooks co-wrote “Thicker Than Blood” and “When You Come Back to Me Again” (which appeared in the movie Frequency) with long-time collaborator Jenny Yates. Kent Blazy, Tony Arata and Brooks wrote “Why Ain’t I Running.” Brooks co-wrote “Rodeo or Mexico” with Paul Kennerley and Bryan Kennedy.
Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson wrote “Squeeze Me In,” which Brooks performs as a duet with Trisha Yearwood . Shawn Camp, Randy Hardison, and Wynn Varble wrote “Big Money,” which Mark Chesnutt had earlier recorded. J.R. Cobb, Buddy Buie and Tom Douglas wrote “Mr. Midnight.”
On the cover, Brooks is wearing the same coat he sported on his self-titled debut album in 1989.
Irish singer turned Nashville transplant Maura O’Connell is known as a song interpreter of the first rank. Songwriters often refer to her as a songwriter’s singer, and she has illuminated songs by writers ranging from Tom Waits to Mary Chapin Carpenter . Her latest album, Walls & Windows (Sugar Hill) features Eric Clapton’s “I Get Lost,” Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” and John Prine’s “Sleepy Eyed Boy.” Other songs are by Malcom Holcombe, Patty Griffin, Ron Sexsmith and other writers. Nashville producer Ray Kennedy, who produced Lucinda Williams ’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was at the helm of Walls & Windows.
A young Colorado bluegrass group was not only unafraid to issue a new CD on the same day that Brooks did, they’re also playing Los Angeles the same night he does. While Brooks plays The Forum on Nov. 14, The Yonder Mountain String Band performs across town at Vynyl in their first Southern California appearance. Their new CD, Town by Town (yondermountain.com) is their second studio album. Tim O’Brien produced the CD and contributes his bouzouki and fiddle expertise on several cuts.