Never accused of playing it safe (remember Chris Gaines?), Garth Brooks offers up a comparatively focused effort on Scarecrow, having zeroed in on his vocal strengths, Allen Reynolds' crystalline prod

Never accused of playing it safe (remember Chris Gaines?), Garth Brooks offers up a comparatively focused effort on Scarecrow, having zeroed in on his vocal strengths, Allen Reynolds' crystalline production, and powerful songs. A muscular Brooks vocal and arena-rock guitars propel the panoramic midtempo "Why Ain't

I Runnin'," and first single "Wrapped Up in You" works via crisp acoustics and a captivating instrumental closing break. Duets with George Jones ("Beer Run") and Trisha Yearwood ("Squeeze Me In") are both mighty fine. While the ballads "The Storm" and "Mr. Midnight" are a tad overwrought, if well-performed, Brooks more than makes up for it with a brace of more personal cuts like "Thicker Than Blood" and "Pushing Up Daisies." With insistent acoustic guitar, razor-sharp lyrics, and a passionate vocal, "Daisies" is arguably the artist's most-inspired track in years. If this is indeed a swan song for Brooks, it's like calling it a career with a championship-winning shot at the buzzer.—RW

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