Great guest appearances overshadow missed opportunities
This is not as crazy as it might first appear. Though everyone knows the Bee-Gees for their disco classics and one of the most iconic soundtracks of all time in Saturday Night Fever, their musical output also ventured into psychedelia and blue-eyed soul before they ever listened to Kool and the Gang and decided funky basslines were the way. The last surviving member, Barry Gibb, already released a country record in 2016 called In the Now, and “Rest Your Love on Me” was a country song by the Bee-Gees in 1978. Furthermore, calling this a country record is a little deceptive, given that it resembles the shimmering, heavily arranged soft rock that could have been released in the 70s. That’s not to say Greenfields: The Gibb Brother’s Songbook, Vol. 1, its two new songs and 10 covers are unenjoyable, as all the guests do their job and Gibb’s distinctive voice will still charm many, but it’s not as novel as it could be.
Between the marketing and the presence of Dave Cobb on production, the impression many might get is that this will be a stripped-down take on Bee-Gees songs, with gentle acoustics and a homespun atmosphere. That is not what people get here. One could draw parallels to the sweet countrypolitan that existed around the same time as the Bee-Gees’ peak or argue that a lot of modern pop-country would be considered soft-rock or adult-contemporary in other times. Though the energy has been tuned down and there’s nothing with the pulse of a “Stayin’ Alive,” the overall sound is still heavenly and heavily arranged, with no sign of grit or organic texture. It’s just odd to recruit so many country stars for renditions that sound like other Bee-Gees material.
Dave Cobb is normally a guy who knows how to balance a mix, yet often the orchestral elements and synths overtake entire songs. “Jive Talkin’” with Jay Buchanan and Miranda Lambert brings in scuzzy guitars and the tightest bassline on the record, and intricate pianos, yet everything gets buried by the strings and vocals. The guitars on “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” “Words Of A Fool” and “Words” are fighting and failing to gain space, even as Keith Urban, Jason Isbell, and especially Dolly Parton do their best. While Gibb has good chemistry with several guests, his vocal fidelity is out of whack at several points, which is unsurprising since they were probably recorded in different areas. Though most of the guests do well, a couple does not flourish with this production. Sheryl Crow does her best over wonky instrumentation with odd drum sounds and rhythms, and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” resembles the polished, lifeless folk-rock of her albums in the 2000s. The final song, “Butterfly,” is one of two original songs here and famed Americana duo Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are totally anonymous against music so predictable in comparison to what they usually make.
The guests are major determinants of quality, and there are some improvements to be found in this second passes. Jay Buchanan of bluesy hard rockers Rival Sons comes out of nowhere on “To Love Somebody,” which cuts out the garish horns for a soaring glam rock song with stomping drums and Buchanan’s spectacular belting. The original “Too Much Heaven” doesn’t begin with harmonies, yet Allison Krauss and Gibb change that with having great chemistry as she nails those prolonged high notes. The opening delicate acoustics on “Run To Me” are similar to the original. Yet, they are a good fit for Gibb’s froggy Cat Stevens’ impression, Brandi Carlisle presents the poise and confidence needed for the song’s message, and that wall of backing vocals is just as gripping here as it was 40 some years ago. “How Deep Is Your Love” is one of the most radical new versions that blends the new with the old, as it cuts out the warbling texture for sharp acoustics yet keeps, and even improves, that stacked choral refrain, this time from Little Big Town. It would help if the solo from legendary guitarist Tony Emmanuel got more attention, like a lot of guitar work on this thing.
However, Greenfields still uses its guest stars to its advantage and leverage the Bee-Gees established strengths and quirks into some distinct and solid new songs, even if it would benefit from being a little more distinctive.