In 1995, Svengali composer, arranger, and producer David Axelrod decided, characteristically, to reveal a side of a popular musical form, in this case country music, that no one else had ever conceived of, let alone heard. The results are jarring to say the least, but equally compelling. Axe used three country standards, "I Fall to Pieces," "Help Me Make It Through the Night," and "Always on My Mind," along with a Garth Brooks hit, "Standing Outside of the Fire," and reconceptualizes all the popular notions about what country music is and is not. At the time of its recording, country music was beginning its breakdown as an outsider art form in the pop music world. The Brooks tune serves as the catalyst for the album. The Big Country was recorded at a time when country music was trying to marry itself to all manner of rock, R&B, pop, and urban blues. Axelrod took it a few steps further, deconstructing the music as pop and reconfiguring it melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically, creating oddly shaded tone poems of color and dissonance. This is not to say that Axelrod's musical revision is atonal or even inaccessible; it's just radical. Each tune, with the exception of "Standing Outside the Fire," has at least two instrumental versions that sandwich a vocal version complete with soloists and choruses. "Always on My Mind" has two vocals and three instrumental versions, all with different charts. Here, jazz, classical, and serial interludes move about these well-known songs and lose their sense of closure -- they are no longer pop songs but expansive forays into sound. While this set isn't for everybody, fans of Axe's more adventurous work will not be able to resist this one, as it marries all of the beauty of earlier recordings with the sense of organized recklessness of later ones. Reissued in the U.K. by Stateside on license from Liberty/Capitol in the U.S., The Big Country is essential Axe, full of haunting power, provocative sonic organization, and ethereal beauty.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek