A Belated Gift from Barry Gibb and Friends

Barry Gibb and Friends | Greenfields – The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1 | Capitol
Four out of Five Stars

Having been spurred on, at least in part, by the superb HBO documentary “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” interest in the Bee Gees has been revived once again. Still, there ought to be even more attention shifted their way following the release of sole surviving brother Barry Gibb’s tribute and testament of sorts, Greenfields – The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1.

Recorded in Nashville under the aegis of renowned producer and hitmaker Dave Cobb, it hands several Gibbs’ classics to an assortment of Music City superstars, those that are well-established and others with contemporary credence. Indeed it’s an impressive roster that Gibb and Cobb have enlisted to replay these timeless tunes names that include Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney, Jason Isbell, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Brandi Carlile, Allison Kraus and Little Big Town, among others.

In most cases, the new treatments find most of the arrangements staying true to the original template as well as to the emotional intent that framed the material initially. The vocal harmonies, always so crucial to the Bee Gees sound, effectively emulate that seminal sound. Yet, even so, Barry himself often seems to take a supporting role in the proceedings, preferring instead to give his guests the center stage. That said, certain songs — “I’ve Got to Get a Message to You,” “Run to Me,” “Too Much Heaven,” “Lonely Days” et. al. — make it all too easy to imagine Barry’s two late brothers, Robin and Maurice, reprising their roles with the harmonies. Their absence only serves to magnify the sadness that lingers so many years after their loss.

That causes one to wonder which purpose Greenfields is meant to serve. While it is a fresh reminder of the brothers’ brilliance, subbing other musicians can detract from the way these songs are engrained in the collective consciousness. Granted, most rank with the greatest songs in pop music history and are easily adapted for new interpretations. However, it would be a challenge at best to try to recapture the connection found 40 and 50 years ago during that most impressionable period early on. On the other hand, there are a few tracks here that are less well known — “Butterfly,” “Words of a Fool” and “Rest Your Love on Me” in particular — which allow the artists involved to put their own stamp on the proceedings.

All in all, Greenfields is an admirable effort, and hearing these songs again, even in an altered context, serves their memory well. Any gift from the Gibbs, past or present, is still well worth cherishing.

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