Song Review: Garth Brooks, “All Day Long”

A few notes before we begin:

  1. I owe a big thank-you to Zack over at The Singing Wilderness for his help in making this review a reality!
  2. Sadly, there’s no song preview due to Garth’s Amazon exclusivity. ūüė¶

OH SNAP. 1995 Garth is back, and he’s not taking any prisoners.

In my review of “Ask Me How I Know,” I declared that “when you’re Garth freaking Brooks, the normal rules of engagement don’t apply.” It looks like Brooks has decided to see just how far he can push this theory. In the middle of a stagnant summer within country music, with the genre brimming with young male singers pushing mostly-forgettable tracks covering the same old topics backed by the same old guitar-and-drum machine sound, the 56-year-old Brooks has dropped “All Day Long,” an unabashed honky-tonk stomper that harkens back to his 1990s heyday in every way possible. It’s a bold move that makes no concessions to time or trendiness, and the result is the most fun I’ve had listening to a song in at least two months. This, my friends, is a nostalgia trend that I can support.

Much like Brad Paisley years later, Brooks and his producers had a knack back in the day for merging modern musical elements (mostly loud rock guitars at the time) with traditional country instrumentation (the typical fiddle-and-steel mix). Over two decades later, Brooks shows that he hasn’t lost his touch: The song opens with a strong electric guitar riff, but quickly drops to nothing but a bass drum for the first chorus, and then brings the guitars back for the chorus and starts mixing in a fiddle on the second verse. The steel guitar here doesn’t get a lot of airtime early on (although in fairness, Brooks generally relied on the fiddle on his singles), but it joins with the fiddle and guitar for an impressive solo with a lot of positive energy. The result is a high-energy mix with a great drum-driven groove, and while the atmosphere isn’t quite what I might expect from a raucous beer joint (the guitars are perhaps a bit too hard-edged), it sets the proper party-hardy tone and is a solid throwback to Brooks tracks of years past.

Brooks’s vocal performance was a big surprise on this track. On “Ask Me How I Know,” I compared him to “a late-career Greg Maddux” who had lost “several ticks off of his fastball.” Against all odds, however, he found a few of those missing miles-per-hour before recording “All Day Long,” and delivers an incredible vintage performance that’s only a hair or two off of his peak. (Seriously, he’s doing things with his voice that I haven’t heard him do in decades, especially in his lower range.) Of course, he never lost any of his trademark charisma, and plays the role of a honky-tonk hero without breaking a sweat. After nearly thirty years, Brooks is still one of ¬†the most charming men in country music, and even when he’s drinking himself to death and trying to catch a woman on the rebound, he remains a likable, sympathetic character that effortlessly connects with his audience and lets them share in his good times. That emotive everyman personality has allowed to hang around country music far longer than most of his peers, and it doesn’t let him down here.

The story behind the lyrics is as straightforward as stories get:¬†Somebody has to get the party started and do all the crazy things that are expected during said night out, so it might as well be the narrator (who is so qualified and prepared for this duty that he “can do this night life all day long”). It’s not the deepest or most novel song in the world, as the narrator goes through all the behaviors you’d expect from a beer-joint barfly (drink, dance, spend all their money, lend a shoulder to a heartbroken member of the opposite sex, etc.). These behaviors also aren’t the most noble or chivalrous in the world (are you helping the sad woman for¬†her sake, or for¬†yours?), so it requires a strong singer to help keep the song from feeling too seedy. For someone with Brooks’s charm, however, this is no challenge at all, and he makes the narrator feel as self-aware and lighthearted.

What’s more interesting to me, however, is the meta commentary that runs through the song. While the traditional country sound has made a slight comeback here in 2018, it’s still outnumbered on the radio today by the more modern-sounding derivatives of the Metro-Bro era. A number of artists/groups have tried to step forward and become the champion of a new traditional movement (Jon Pardi, Mo Pitney, William Michael Morgan, Midland), but none have gained enough traction to spearhead any sort of shift in the genre. While Brooks acknowledges that the neotraditional sound may never dominate the airwaves again like it did in his prime (“that country…ain’t ever comin’ back”), by throwing down a song that references that sound and that style so strongly (and by constantly saying that “somebody” has to perform all these old-school beer-joint rituals), he seems to be saying that he wants to be that champion, and that¬†he wants to lead traditional country music back into the spotlight. It’s a risky move with a low probability of success (and whether or not such a shift is desirable is a whole other question), but honestly, Brooks doesn’t have a lot to lose here, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when he sets his mind to something, he can’t be counted out.

By itself, “All Day Long” is a fun, enjoyable song that reminds the world exactly why Garth Brooks was so successful for so long. His affable persona and keen ear for production transform what could have been a generic, nothing-special song into a full-fledged old-school party track that wouldn’t be too out of place on a dance hall playlist. I’m not sure this is the start of a massive paradigm shift towards traditional sounds in country music, but it’s nice to know this style of music still has a place in the genre and on the radio.

Rating: 8/10. It’s hard to find, but it’s worth the hassle.