Greenfields is a little muddled from numerous star-studded features, but still puts the Bee Gee’s classic songbook on display in a new light.
On his third-ever solo album, last living Bee Gee Barry Gibb rarely sounds like the star of the show; at best, he sounds like he’s playing a supporting role, or even making glorified cameos on his own record. This isn’t necessarily a liability, and in fact, it seems largely by design: Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol. 1 is intended, first and foremost, as a reclamation of the Gibbs’ songwriting legacy, rescuing both classics and obscurities from the trappings of disco and soft rock, revealing them to be transcendent works of melody and masterpieces of emotion. Gibb enlisted producer Dave Cobb, who situates these new renditions in the country music tradition — not the bare-bones, outlaw austerity he brings to his Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton records, but rather a lush, string-laden take on Nashville’s commercial glory. Gibb sings on every song here, but he’s joined by a cast of country and roots-music legends whose charisma consistently outshines him; how could he really be expected to hold his own when duetting with the luminous Dolly Parton, or strutting through “Jive Talkin’” with Miranda Lambert?
As with so many star-studded duets albums, Greenfields can feel a little imbalanced: Individually, the songs all work, but there’s no center of gravity to bring them all together. Gibb’s hiccuppy singing style can be an acquired taste, but by largely ceding the spotlight, he keeps the focus where it belongs: on this remarkable body of songs that he created, both by himself and with his brothers. The pleasures come in hearing these songs performed in a more timeless style, with vocal talents who are clearly energized by the Gibb Brothers’ striking tunes and emotionally accessible lyrics. Highlights? How about “I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You,” with Keith Urban, which opens the album with a radiant burst of strings? Check out the irresistibly dramatic “Lonely Days,” featuring ace harmonies from Little Big Town; or Isbell’s performance of “Words of a Fool,” which reveals the song to be the deepest, nastiest blues Gibb ever wrote. Did I already mention that Dolly Parton’s on the album? It all feels like a big, splashy highlight reel, but it more than makes its point: The Gibb Brothers songbook is a treasury of riches, and it probably still hasn’t gotten its due.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2021 | Part 1.