In the world of contemporary country music, it is difficult to think of a bigger name than Garth Brooks, who has been a persistent feature in the musical landscape – his brief retirement in the early 2000s notwithstanding – since his self-titled début album back in 1989. Brooks has been recognised by the Recording Industry Association of America as the best-selling solo artist of the century, and is the only act to have seven releases attain diamond album – indicating in excess of ten million units sold – status.
Against this backdrop of success, it is difficult to believe that Gunslinger is only Brooks’ tenth studio album – well, eleventh if we count Greatest Hits, released under the Chris Gaines moniker. With just ten tracks, and a duration of 35 minutes, Gunslinger is a tight little album – for the most part. BANG! BANG!, Cowboys and Friends, and 8teen form a disappointing triumvirate to conclude the record, but given the album’s brevity it’s unlikely that spreading these tracks out would have benefited the record, and at least this way the listener can turn the album off after Whiskey To Wine – a well-executed duet between Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood – to end on a relative high-note.
Throughout Gunslinger, Brooks plays with unexpected musical elements – such as an electronic drumbeat on Weekend and the rock and funk/soul aspects of Pure Adrenaline – pushing the boundaries on what is clearly a genre album, but never so far as to alienate his core audience, demonstrating quite a bit of skill. This sonic playfulness is signaled by the funky bass line and organ of Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance, which made it a clear choice to be lead-single.
The record really belongs to Ask Me How I Know, the only track for which Brooks doesn’t receive a writing credit. In fact, it is the only track to be credited to a single writer, Mitch Rossell, and it is easy to see why Rossell is building a following in the industry. By providing a solid vocal performance and ensuring the string backing is placed just so, Brooks has guaranteed everyone’s talents are portrayed in the best possible light on the track. Ultimately, Gunslinger is a good, if underwhelming, album from an artist who is clearly capable of more.