I’m willing to bet that we don’t have a whole bunch of disco devotees traveling with us on Americana Highways. There just isn’t a lot of crossover seen between the two genres. But for every commonly accepted musical opinion, there’s always at least one dissenting voice. In this case, that voice belongs to none other than Barry Gibb, co-founder of the Bee Gees. Turns out, Gibb’s been a fan of country and bluegrass since growing up in Australia. Now, the sole surviving member of this band of brothers (Robin, Maurice and occasional collaborator Andy have all passed on) has recruited ace producer Dave Cobb and over a dozen of his favorite twang-ish singers to re-record some of the biggest tunes he and his brothers wrote and, hopefully, put them in front of a new audience.
The record, titled Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol. 1 comes during a mini-renaissance for the Brothers Gibb. Following closely on the heels of the HBO Max documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, we’re reminded that the band was much more than the disco titans they became in the late 70s. The album begins, fittingly, with the band’s first US Top 10 single, “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” featuring Keith Urban. As with many of the tracks on Greenfields, the guest ends up taking the lead, with Gibb coming in later – the entire record is set up to focus on the songs and these new interpretations of them. While not reaching Gibb-sian heights, Urban, supplemented by piano and organ, hits a higher-than-usual octave until Gibb and a full orchestra kick in. Next up is Jason Isbell and “Words of a Fool,” where we’re reminded that one of the best songwriters and guitar players on the planet is also a damn good singer (Isbell also contributes acoustic guitar to several of the tracks).
Gibb, 74, doesn’t carry the same vocal power he once did, but he’s wise enough to recruit some truly great voices to this project. In “Run to Me,” Gibb’s lighter touch sets up Brandi Carlile to positively soar. Gibb hovers above the ballad “Too Much Heaven” while Alison Krauss dives right in. And “Words” dials down some of the strings, leaving room for piano and a good amount of pedal steel, making it one of the more country-ish cuts on the record. Perhaps as a trade for the gift of “Islands in the Stream” (penned by the brothers), Dolly Parton shows up as an excellent match for Gibb, circa 2021.
Though Greenfields won’t give you a disco overload, Miranda Lambert and Jay Buchanan of Rival Sons contribute to a slightly funky version of “Jive Talkin’.” It’s the cut that “moves” the best, and Lambert’s husky voice fits surprisingly well. (Speaking of disco, none of the artists chose to sing “Stayin’ Alive,” but I’d pay good money to hear an Orville Peck cover on Greenfields: Vol. 2). But the album truly meets its mission on the last cut, “Butterfly.” Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (who are utterly incapable of making bad music, separately or together), join Gibb to record a song he’d written with his young brothers, long before the shiny jumpsuits and wild chest hair. It’s a love song, sure, but it also serves as a reminder of Robin, Maurice and Andy from days long ago – “Green fields where we used to wander/Purple valleys, near my home.” Welch and Rawlings blend with Gibb to bring us a different brand of those famous Bee Gee harmonies. Maybe a full album from these three could be Dave Cobb’s next special project…
Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook, Vol. 1 was produced by Dave Cobb. All songs were written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. Additional featured artists include Little Big Town, Tommy Emmanuel, Sheryl Crow and Olivia Newton-John.
Order Greenfields here: https://www.barrygibb.com/
Check out the trailer for The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart here: