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More Bits and Pieces From Brooks

August 29, 1993|ROBERT HILBURN


"In Pieces"

Liberty Records

* * 1/2

Brooks, the most commanding figure in country music, is blessed with too much ambition and daring to give us the kind of conventional, ho-hum collections that are so commonplace in country.

His fifth studio package in three years continues to serve up songs with strong points of view (the go-for-it-in-life-and-love resolve of "Standing Outside the Fire") and penetrating looks at relationships (the father-son confrontations of "The Night I Called the Old Man Out," and the delicate heartache of "One Night a Day").

The wild card is "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association," which could connect with Brooks' audience on the same anthem-like, sociocultural level that the disarming "Friends in Low Places" did a couple of years ago. It's a tale of blue-collar frustration--about such things as welfare lines and high taxes--that has more in common with Merle Haggard's conservative tomes of the '60s and '70s than with his own liberal "We Shall Be Free."

None of it, however, adds up to the breakthrough step that would take Brooks' artistry up another level, the way "We Shall Be Free" and "Somewhere Other Than the Night" did on last year's "The Chase," his most fully satisfying package. At best, the collection simply supplies a few worthy new songs to freshen up the live show, which remains the heart of Brooks' art and appeal.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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