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Various Artists

In the Beginning: A Songwriter's Tribute to Garth Brooks – 2001 (VFR)

Reviewed by Mike Clark

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If Garth Brooks holds firm on his plans to retire from recording and performing country music, songwriters throughout the Music City will be crying in their beers. Pat Alger, Tony Arata, Larry Bastian, DeWayne Blackwell, Kent Blazy, Stephanie Davis, Victoria Shaw and Kim Williams have already made quite a bit of money from their friend, so this tribute is actually more of a "thank you" to the man who made their lifestyles more comfortable.

Songwriters can make considerable cash with just one hit, but their past is likely littered with roach-infested apartments, jobs picking crops and stints as a talking reindeer - just a few of the indignities suffered by these writers. Alger and Blazy gathered this group together for a peak at the talent hidden behind the popular song. With the exception of Shaw and Alger, none are true vocalists - Williams offers a deep, slow delivery on "Papa Loved Mama" and Tony Arata's version of "The Dance" scores low on style points. Still, in most instances, the versions on this record are as Garth first heard them; raw jewels needing his polish.

Only one track, "Pains," hasn't been covered by Brooks; it's an off-color rewrite of "Friends in Low Places" by Blackwell, who has also written such inspiring verses as "I'm Going To Hire A Wino to Decorate Our Home."

This isn't for a Top 40 audience. This is one for aspiring songwriters, old folkies and those who appreciate the art of the song.