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First Country: New Music from Garth Brooks, Morgan Wallen, Lee Brice, Chris Young and More

Garth Brooks, Fun

(Only available to Amazon Music  subscribers, but listeners can sample the album here)

From his self-titled debut album 31 years ago, Brooks has always known his strength: not trying to be anyone but himself, not even his hero George Strait (though “That’s What Cowboys Do” sounds like it fell off a Strait album). He’s never paid attention to trends or fads to curry radio’s favor. But when you’re the top-selling solo artist in the U.S., calling your own shots is not only your prerogative, it’s mandatory. Many of the oft-delayed Fun’s 15 songs, including previous singles “The Road I’m On,” “All Day Long” and “Dive Bar” with Blake Shelton, live up to the upbeat title, as does Cajun twister “Party Gras (The Mardi Gras Song),” but there’s a lot more going on in this diverse set. Brooks shows off his underrated soulful side on the gospel-tinged, rollicking “Amen” (which is about anything but heavenly pursuits), and he and Charley Pride are beautifully simpatico on “Where the Cross Don’t Burn,” a duet about the enduring friendship between a young white boy and older black man, despite racist times. Lovers of such songs as “The Change” will likely champion “The Courage of Love,” a lush, anthemic turn about finding the strength to do what’s right, and fans of his wife, Trisha Yearwood, will eat up their cover of A Star Is Born’s “Shallow,” where she holds a powerful command. Brooks’ fans know he always reserves the last spot on the album for his favorite song and “(Sometimes You’ve Got to Die To) Live Again,” a dramatic, piano- and string-based ballad featuring Brooks’ supple vocals soaring from falsetto to arena rocker with ease, will likely be a listener favorite as well.

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