GARTH BROOKS"Fresh Horses” Capitol Nashville* * *It...


“Fresh Horses”

Capitol Nashville

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It seems hard to make a case that someone’s slipping commercially when his 1994 greatest-hits album has sold more than 8 million copies, but you can hear those whispers about Brooks in Nashville.

As if he eavesdropped on that talk himself, country’s all-time biggest seller spent more than a year searching for material with the character and spirit of such past highlights as the philosophical “The Dance,” the playful “Friends in Low Places” and the poignant “Unanswered Prayers.”

In a work that leans toward country tradition, Brooks comes up with some winners in his most listenable collection since 1992’s “The Chase.”

“The Old Stuff” and “It’s Midnight Cinderella” both approach the feel-good spunk of “Friends,” while “That Ol’ Wind” evokes the tenderness of “Prayers” and “The Change” expands on the idealism of “The Dance.”

Elsewhere, “Cowboys and Angels” harks back nicely to Willie and Waylon’s outlaw days, while “The Beaches of Cheyenne” offers the surreal of such country standards as “Delta Dawn” and “The Long Black Veil.” There are disappointing routine moments (including the reworking of Aerosmith’s “The Fever” and an ill-fitting tribute to Ireland) that keeps this from being the knockout package you expect some day from an artist with such stage command. Still, it asserts an ambition and individuality that is rare these days in the flood of mediocre and anonymous Nashville acts.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).