In 1992, I didn’t know anything about country music. In 2017, I still don’t. I know one thing though: there’s country music, and then there’s Garth Brooks.
I moved from Virginia to West Virginia with my dad in 1992 to live with my mom, Bonnie, in Capon Bridge. I’ll be the first one to say that mom wasn’t behind on the times; she listened to all my demo tapes I did in high school and gave me an honest opinion, all while she supported my music fully. In the evenings, dad would go referee high school basketball games and it would just be me and mom at the house. Mom knew I loved music, so she would put some on the stereo; a stereo that featured a brand spanking new CD player. Mom had a ton of cassettes too but she wanted to use the CD player for one reason: Garth Brooks.
My first exposure to Garth was No Fences. Ropin’ The Wind came out in 1991 and I think she had it too but it didn’t hold a candle to No Fences. It’s hard to top an opening salvo like “The Thunder Rolls”. It’s dark, gloomy, and if you listened to Garth’s Double Live album, it ends in murder in the live version! While clearly a country song, it wasn’t like any country song I ever experienced. I still feel this way to this day.
The beautiful thing about No Fences is it has two first ballot hall of fame tracks on its original 10 song edition (“This Ain’t Tennessee” was added in 1998) with “The Thunder Rolls” and “Friends In Low Places”, but the album cuts are just as amazing as the singles. I had “New Way To Fly” in my head out of nowhere last week and I welcomed it each time the hook would cue itself up again. “Wild Horses” is a jam. “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House” can get the party started at any local bar. “Same Old Story” is a beautiful ballad. And “Mr. Blue” is a country song that fits the genre’s “oh woe is me” roots.
And there will never be another “Friends In Low Places”. I’ve had conversations with the scariest of dudes and they know this tune. But who couldn’t relate to being drunk at your ex’s wedding and ruining it? Who hasn’t for either a few minutes or a period in their life made friends with the unlikeliest people over drinks? Would you talk to them in public? Hell no! But if you see them at your bar, you’re damn sure gonna buy them a round if you have the cash, knowing that they’ll return the favor at a later date.
“Friends In Low Places” is an unabashed country song and Brooks never hides it. It’s that honesty that easily makes this track the greatest in his catalog next to his monster ballad “The Dance” from his self-titled debut in 1990. “Friends In Low Places” speaks to everyone of all ages. I was 9 the first time I heard it and I was in love.
I could go on gushing about “Friends…”, “Thunder…” and No Fences as a whole but my time is short. But I’ll put this LP up against any country album you want to bring me and Garth wins. My name is Kelen Conley and I endorse that statement.