Thirty years ago, Garth Brooks released his breakthrough album No Fences. Powered by instant classics such as “Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls,” and “Unanswered Prayers,” the record would ultimately sell 18 million copies. In the process, it transformed Brooks into a stadium-filling phenomenon and redefined the parameters for success in country music. The album is a quintessential piece of what we now call ’90s County, a hybrid of neo-traditional country twang mixed with ’70s-style acoustic rock and pop balladry.
Listening to No Fences with three decades of hindsight, it’s clear Brooks is more than a singer. He’s an epic storyteller. Whether he’s singing about bank foreclosures, religious epiphanies at high school football games or going to that place where “the whiskey drowns, and the beer chases” one’s blues away, he delivers every line as if he’s trying to convey some deep universal truth. Like many a country star before and after him, Brooks is a master of interpreting other people’s words. Though he co-wrote several of the songs, he sings every track as if it’s his own.