No Fences Bottom Line:I realize that reviewing this disc favorably will probably cost me a few points of street cred in the Americana underground, but hey, I gotta call it as I see it - when Brooks first hit the scene, he sang country music. It was mainstream, it was a little slick and poppy, but it was reasonably traditional in keeping with the other neo-traditionalist Nashville crop of the late 80's and early 90's, and it was pretty darned good, really. Maybe not deserving of every single award that came down the pipes, but still, admit it. Garth Brooks wasn't really that bad back then.
Some History:Everyone knows by now where Garth came from and where he's gone to. And yes, there's been all manner of flap about Garth, from the press conferences to the "retirement" to his personal life on display and the faux pop star BS and every blessed thing else, but when it came down to brass tacks, in the beginning, when there was only the debut disc and No Fences, Garth was still pretty much just a country boy from Oklahoma and he sang, by and large, plain old country music then. With tunes inspired by his idol, the venerable (and much missed) Chris LeDoux - and, seriously, admit it; how many of us out here would have known LeDoux if Brooks hadn't introduced us? - as well as George Strait and other plain Western artists, No Fences blasted Brooks out of the rest of the pack of the late-blooming neo-traditionalists and set him on a path that, seriously, no one else could follow without bending the genre so far it broke. Brooks charged out there and sold hundreds of thousands of records without getting rid of his Oklahoma accent, and while a lot of the Americana underground seem to blame him for everything that happened to country music afterward, sometimes I just find myself defending him (Loretta Lynn defends Garth, too). I can't help it. I like his voice.
No Fences The Music:Think back to before he was recording Billy Joel songs, before the concert in Central Park, before millions of discs sold, he was just warbling about his "Friends In Low Places" or the world-weary rodeo rider of "Wild Horses." The country charts were never the same after these two, along with "The Thunder Rolls" and "Two Of A Kind, Workin' On A Full House" blasted through. There is absolutely no denying his affect (good and bad) on Nashville after the release of this album. Combining his own songwriting with some serious heavy-hitters such as Bobby Boyd, DeWayne Blackwell, and Larry Bastian, as well as some hard-working musicians including James Garver, Ty England, and Dave Gant, No Fences proves to be a rollicking good time, with a good combination of humor, some heart-wrenching sentiment, and more than its share of controversy (despite all the fervor over "The Thunder Rolls," most of it was directed at the video, as none of the abuse element comes through in the actual song).
The following track, "New Way To Fly," though, is a solid country weeper, filled with crying pedal steel and Brooks' teary Okie accent over the tinkle of light barroom piano and gentle guitar picking and a steady brush stroke on the drums; and there is no denying the country two-steppin' honky-tonk feeling of the popular cut "Two of a Kind, Workin' On A Full House." The fiddle alone kicks this one into the sawdust and neon lights, but there's a nice touch of steel and again, that tinkle of piano.
The rest of the disc walks that fine line, balancing between crying fiddles and guitar power chords; there are some very sweet harmonies from the as-yet-unknown Trisha Yearwood, particularly in "Wild Horses" (still, I have to say, an exquisite tune), then drifting into full-out Countrypolitan with the orchestral backing in "Unanswered Prayers" and the swinging bluesy "Mr. Blue." It's a little schizophrenic, genre-wise, but somehow it works. And it made Brooks a household name.
No Fences was re-issued with an additional track ("This Ain't Tennessee") in 2000, as part of the special "One Voice, One Decade, One Hundred Million" box set collection.
Release Date: (original) September 8, 1990; (reissue) November 21, 2000 - Label: Capitol
No Fences Track List:
- "The Thunder Rolls"
- "New Way To Fly"
- "Two Of A Kind, Workin' On A Full House"
- "Victim of the Game"
- "Friends in Low Places"
- "This Ain't Tennessee"
- "Wild Horses"
- "Unanswered Prayers"
- "Same Old Story"
- "Mr. Blue"