Ropin' The Wind

Garth Brooks

Capitol Nashville, 1991

http://www.garthbrooks.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/16/2006

From the very beginning, Garth Brooks set himself apart from his country contemporaries in a variety of ways.

He was funny, but the humor was almost always self-deprecating; he was unabashedly sentimental yet atypically well-grounded; and he was ready to tackle any topic that would serve the overriding purpose of his music -- to connect with people, and move them. Did he try too hard sometimes? Of course he did. As driven as marketing major Brooks was to achieve success in the music business, it never seemed quite as important to him as holding on tight to his audience's attention. (Let's just be grateful Garth stopped short of Madonna in that respect!)

All of which is a kind of necessary recap and preface to Ropin' The Wind, the album that consolidated Brooks' status as the leading country artist of the early 90s, and helped propel him from stardom to superstardom.

It's an album filled with moments that both define the persona known as "GB" and illustrate the reasons he was able to cross over into mainstream appeal like no country artist had in a generation. One of the key elements to Brooks' appeal has always been his ability to touch every base -- and does he ever here. From the giddy speed-picking of the rollicking opener "Against The Grain" -- a typically warm and cheeky ode to rebelliousness -- to the steady-building closer "The River"-- one of Brooks' signature statements of optimism and perseverance -- this is Garth in his prime.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In "Rodeo" Brooks creates an archetype of an archetype, one of the purest, most potent portraits of modern cowboy life in popular music: "Well it's bulls and blood / It's dust and mud / It's the roar of a Sunday crowd / It's the white in his knuckles / The gold in the buckle / He'll win the next go 'round / It's boots and chaps / It's cowboy hats / It's spurs and latigo / It's the ropes and the reins / And the joy and the pain / And they call the thing rodeo." It's enough to make even a lifelong city boy like me want to ride...

"Papa Loved Mama" finds Brooks taking a series of old country cliches (the randy wife, the jealous trucker husband) and turning them into an action thriller with a tragicomic undercurrent. Later on, "In Lonesome Dove" employs one of the prettiest melodies of the man's career in support of a classic story-song of the old West with a modern twist -- the tough guy is a woman.

The song that drew the most attention on Ropin', though was "Shameless." It wasn't just that no right-thinking country artist had ever covered a song by a pop-rock piano man like Billy Joel -- it was that no right-thinking country artist had ever even *considered* the idea. Fifteen years later, the shock experienced in some quarters seems laughable -- not so much because Brooks used moves like this to shake country music out of its doldrums and make it interesting again, but because "Shameless" fits in so seamlessly with the rest of this album. It's an over-the-top sentiment expressed by a guy who never hesitated to leap that far, and you can't get much more country than those soaring steel guitars.

Even the lesser songs here -- no Brooks album is without filler -- are a step above their peers on his other discs. Ropin' The Wind may just be the most consistent -- and consistently appealing -- album the man ever issued.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Nashville, and is used for informational purposes only.