Garth Brooks

The Lost Sessions

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Garth Brooks signed an exclusive contract with Wal-Mart in the summer of 2005, a pact that guaranteed that the megastore would be the only retailer selling Garth's catalog. The first release under that contract was the second volume of The Limited Series, a six-disc box that gathers all the albums Brooks released since his 1998 installment: two studio albums, 1997's Sevens and 2001's Scarecrow, 1998's live double album Double Live, a DVD called All Access, and The Lost Sessions, which gathered together various odds and ends recorded during the time the box set covered. In that incarnation, The Lost Sessions was a mere 11 tracks, which was enough to produce Brooks' first hit single in a few years with "Good Ride Cowboy," his rollicking, good-natured tribute to his idol Chris LeDoux. But a few months after the release of this second Limited Series -- after "Good Ride Cowboy" finished its ride on the country charts -- The Lost Sessions was spun off as its own separate release. As its own release, the album not only had a different track sequencing, it was greatly expanded with the addition of no less than six songs, most notable among these a duet with his wife Trisha Yearwood, "Love Will Always Win." In either incarnation The Lost Sessions is stronger than most records Garth has made since In Pieces, carrying over the back-to-basics feel of Scarecrow, but feeling a lot looser than that return to form, especially on the 17-track version of the album, which is one case of more truly being more. Of course, collections of outtakes always tend to be looser than finished albums -- particularly finished albums by superstars like Garth who polish their records so they satisfy every part of their audience -- but it's a true pleasure to hear Brooks so relaxed. Not only is his sense of humor apparent on many of these tracks -- particularly on the appealingly silly "Cowgirl's Saddle" and the ramshackle "My Baby No Esta Aqui" -- but even on straight-ahead numbers like "Allison Miranda" he sounds like he's having a good time, which wasn't always the case on Fresh Horses and Sevens. That looser spirit is evident even on ballads like "For a Minute There" or "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," but the most appealing thing about The Lost Sessions is that it's not devoted to slow songs like these; they're balanced by driving, anthemic modern country like "I'd Rather Have Nothing," barroom ballads like "Under the Table," ragged singalongs like the terrific "She Don't Care About Me," modern-day western tunes like "That Girl Is a Cowboy," and the aforementioned "Cowgirl's Saddle" and "My Baby No Esta Aqui." Garth hasn't had a record this consistent or compulsively listenable in years, which means that this rarities collection is far from being something just for diehards: this is for anybody who's ever enjoyed his music. No wonder it's been released independently of the box set: The Lost Sessions deserves to be heard on its own terms, since it's one of Brooks' best albums of the last 15 years.

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