It makes sense that this was the first country album to debut atop the pop charts, for Garth Brooks was as omnivorous a commercial force as music will ever see. With an advertising degree from Oklahoma State in his pocket, he invaded Nashville in the mid-80s with unparalleled instincts for how to walk the line between corn pone and pop. Music Row was suspicious — (particularly of his liberalism) but his tastes and influences were truly catholic—which explains how he careens so easily from the honky-tonk of Merle Haggard to the tenderness of James Taylor in a single verse. That Ropin’ is only his second-best selling album (a mere 14 million units moved) probably sticks in Garth’s craw, but it is his best, and “The River” and “We Bury the Hatchet” (“but leave the handle stickin’ out”) endure as monuments to the cleverness of his songwriting and the intensity of his genre-busting ambition.
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