Six decades into his career and pushing 75, Barry Gibb has far from exhausted his creative prowess. The last surviving Bee Gees brother’s latest work, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1 (★★★☆☆), reimagines some of the band’s most well-known songs as a country compilation. Featuring several powerhouse country artists and recorded in Nashville for good measure, the album is the rhetorical answer to anyone who ever wondered what the Bee Gees might sound like as a folksy Americana band.
Bands composed of siblings have a certain magic to them, and there is no replacing the brothers’ iconic three-part harmonies. Wisely, Gibb doesn’t try to replicate that spark, instead making use of a range of unique vocal talents. Greenfields boasts a list of contributors that includes heavyweights like Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, and Dolly Parton, bolstering its country cred but also underscoring that even when covered, Bee Gees songs work best as a team effort.
Despite some stellar performances, particularly from Jason Isbell and Jay Buchanan, the album falls short of its promise. Producer Dave Cobb, notable for giving us the soundtrack for the 2018 remake of A Star is Born, does good work in bringing a sense of flow and consistency, but in doing so overcorrects and robs the tracks of their sense of fun and buoyancy, something that was always absolutely key to the Bee Gees’ appeal.
On its face, Gibb’s choice to reimagine his band’s classic rock and disco stylings as country songs is an odd one, but much of the album is in fact shaped by the music the brothers grew up listening to. The release of Greenfields semi-coincides with How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the HBOMax documentary released last month that chronicles the brothers’ decades-long career from the very beginning, including their formative years in Australia where, in the 1950s, country music ruled the radio. The film also turns its focus outward onto the cultural forces that the Bee Gees shaped and were in turn shaped by, at one point focusing in on their pivot to disco and their popularity in the underground Black and gay music scenes, and the eventual backlash that followed — including the infamous Disco Demolition Night.
These scenes in particular drive home that there was a time when the Bee Gees were at the forefront of American culture. They accordingly inspired strong feelings all around, receiving both intense admiration and vilification. That strong creative spirit is what’s missing more than anything in Greenfields. It’s not trying to make lightning strike twice, and nor should it necessarily be, but an album conceived by one of the most visionary and influential musicians of the 20th century with an all-star list of collaborators will necessarily come with high expectations attached. The flattening out of some iconic songs and the filler quality of many of the tracks leaves an otherwise solid album lacking.
Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1 is available for streaming and purchase now. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is available at www.HBO.com.
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