Earlier this morning, while fans logged onto GhostTunes to hear free, 60-second clips of the 14 songs from Garth Brooks’ forthcoming Man Against Machine, the singer hosted a more in-depth listening session at the headquarters of his new record label, Sony Music Nashville.
The setting — a renovated chapel that Sony currently uses as a listening room — was formal enough, but Brooks kept things casual, taking the stage/pulpit in blue jeans, sneakers, baseball cap and an oversized Nashville Predators sweatshirt. He got serious when it came to the music, though, visibly choking up during a live, acoustic performance of “Mom” — a ballad he described as “a conversation that goes on between God and this unborn baby who’s about to go down to Earth” — and allowing the playback of several other songs, including “Send ‘Em Down the Road” and the flag-waving “All-American Kid,” to move him to tears.
Throughout the 90-minute event, he dished out plenty of praise for Nashville’s songwriting community, whose members wrote the bulk of the album. Wynn Varble received the most shout-outs, with Brooks — who only co-wrote three of Man Against Machine‘s 14 songs, a significant drop from his previous records — emphasizing the fact that he’s not just the singer of these tunes, but a serious fan, as well.
“The songwriters of today are way above the songwriters of the Nineties,” he claimed, admitting that he “didn’t trust [his] pen” in the face of such strong competition. “These kids are sharp. They blew me away.”
Other album highlights included the closing track, “Tacoma,” a bluesy, old-school R&B tune cut from the same cloth as Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and “Midnight Train,” a minor-key anthem driven forward by the sound of a very different Sledge: session percussionist (and longtime Garth collaborator) Milton Sledge. Brooks credited his bandmates, including Sledge, guitarist Ryan Sutton and pianist Bobby Wood, for filling Man Against Machine‘s tracks with loose, natural and organic performances — rare things in the world of slick, major-label country music.
“We didn’t use any click tracks,” Brook said of the recording process, “but there are loops on this record — and they breathe. I’ve never heard a loop breathe before.”
Before wrapping up the listening session and heading north to prep for this weekend’s concerts in Lexington, Kentucky, Brooks also reminded everyone that Man Against Machine — originally intended to be a double album — will be quickly followed by another album, much of it compiled from the 15-plus songs that were recorded for Man Against Machine and ultimately axed from the final tracklist. Expect songs from that album to start hitting the radio in Fall 2015, with the full record arriving the following year.