In 2013, Garth Brooks released a massive box set that features cover songs from many of the artists that helped shape his own music, and the project reveals the full range of Brooks' musical ability.
Titled Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences, the set features four discs of cover songs in the genres of classic country, classic rock, blue-eyed soul and melting pot, where Brooks placed the songs that defied easy categorization. The singer essays a wide range of material, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Loretta Lynn and more, and demonstrates a chameleon-like vocal quality in the process.
Brooks can easily shift gears to cover several decades' worth of music in a dizzying array of styles, but our list of the Top 10 Garth Brooks Cover Songs selects only the best of the best.
Appropriately enough, the list of the Top 10 Garth Brooks Cover Songs kicks off with a country classic. Originally recorded by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, "Act Naturally" reached No. 1 in 1963, and has since been covered by everyone from Dwight Yoakam to the Beatles. Brooks' version remains true to the original with twangy guitars and a country vocal that takes the listener on an audio trip to Bakersfield.
"Midnight Train to Georgia"
We know what you're thinking: Brooks covering Gladys Knight?! The answer is yes -- and very well, thank you. In a surprisingly strong rendition of the No. 1 hit from 1973, Brooks channels his inner soul man for a vocal that is as unexpected as anything he has ever recorded. If you thought you knew everything about Brooks, one listen to this track will prove you wrong.
If you ever needed proof positive that the lines between country and classic rock have become too blurred to distinguish, look no further. This No. 1 Doobie Brothers hit from 1975 didn't need any revisions to country it up; in fact, Brooks gives it a straight reading that doesn't deviate that much from the original recording, and still sounds more country than almost anything on contemporary country radio today. It just goes to show, it doesn't matter if it's classic rock or classic country -- just as long as it's a true classic.
"Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"
You can't have the top country singer of his generation tip his hat to classic country without a good solid dose of Merle Haggard. Brooks does just that with "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down." He employs a different vocal approach here; rather than try to emulate Haggard's unique phrasing, Brooks sings the song straight to the melody, using his own signature phrasing to lend the track a new slant, while still retaining the proper reverence for the material.
If you could get past the packaging and marketing, Brooks' ill-fated 1999 album Garth Brooks in . . . The Life of Chris Gaines revealed a side to the singer's voice that many fans still don't know is there. That side comes through again on Brooks' cover of "Drift Away," Dobie Gray's signature hit from 1973. Close your eyes and forget about Brooks' country persona for a minute, and it doesn't seem like you're hearing a country superstar cover a pop-soul song -- it sounds like you're hearing a top-notch pop-soul singer do exactly what he does naturally.
No male country vocalist has a gentler touch with a ballad than Brooks, which he demonstrates once again with this cover of Keith Whitley's No. 1 hit from 1988. Brooks makes the vocal his own, delivering the lyric with the same sparse, stark style that drove some of his own biggest ballad hits like "What She's Doing Now" and "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Brooks knows exactly how to get out of the way and let a song this simple unfold the way it needs to, without a lot of clutter and unnecessary over-emoting. That approach makes "Don't Close Your Eyes" one of the Top 10 Garth Brooks Cover Songs.
Here's an interesting challenge: take this CD to a party, put it on without telling anyone who it is, and see if anyone can guess who it is singing this amazing Rod Stewart cover. For "Maggie May," Brooks employs a gruffer, grittier side to his voice that he doesn't have much occasion to use on his own records. This is somewhat reminiscent of the vocal performance he gave on his cover of the KISS song "Hard Luck Woman" in the '90s, which is not too surprising, since that track was more than a little bit inspired by that period of Stewart's career. There aren't too many singers that can tackle Rod Stewart effectively, but Brooks pulls it off remarkably well here.
Wow. That's all we can say after taking in Brooks' cover of this Stevie Wonder classic. On paper, it seems like a country star covering Stevie Wonder would be about as good as . . . well, a country star covering Stevie Wonder. But Brooks once again demonstrates his chameleon-esque voice, singing over a very different kind of track than we're used to hearing, with a result that's dramatically better than you might have expected.
Only a fool or a genius would willingly put himself out there to be compared to Freddie Mercury, let alone singing one of the most difficult songs in the entire Queen catalog. But once again, Brooks pulls it off, delivering a crazy good performance of "Somebody to Love" that reveals a jaw-dropping falsetto we've really never heard before, as well as an upper range that he just doesn't get to touch that often in his country work. Watch out, Adam Lambert -- Brooks may be fronting Queen next time we see them on tour.
It's only fitting that this list of the Top 10 Garth Brooks Cover Songs both begin and end with a country classic. "After the Fire Is Gone" is one of the most authentic cuts in the entire new collection, but Brooks will have to move over to make room in the spotlight -- it's his wife, Trisha Yearwood, who really shines on this track, while Brooks displays his ability to blend and sing harmony as well as lead. Originally a No. 1 hit for Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty in 1971, "After the Fire Is Gone" is a perfect vehicle for Brooks and Yearwood to display their unique vocal chemistry. They've sung together many times, but never more effectively than this.