This CD cover image released by Sony Music Nashville shows...

This CD cover image released by Sony Music Nashville shows "Man Against Machine," by Garth Brooks. Credit: AP

Garth Brooks is a man of his word.

The top-selling solo artist of all time said in 2000 that he was retiring from music so that he could raise his three daughters. And that's what he did.

Now that his youngest daughter Allie has turned 18, Brooks is back, with "Man Against Machine" (RCA Nashville), his first album in 13 years, and a new tour, his first since 1998. By the sounds of "Man Against Machine" -- which drops Tuesday -- the 52-year-old is ready to pick up right where he left off and he plans to do it his own way.

There's no pandering to the 2014 country audience on "Man Against Machine," no nods to "bro country," no attempts at rapping, not even a lot of rock trappings. The title track is about as far away from Florida Georgia Line as you can get, an epic discussion of the dangers of too much technology, complete with clanging, chanting and wailing background vocals and guitars that illustrate the "war of man against machine" that man will win because of his "working heart."

However, that's only one aspect of his career that Brooks revisits on the album, seemingly eager to quickly make up for lost time. Moving back into the niche that Kenny Chesney has taken over, he champions small-town life and service to country in the anthem "All-American Kid," ending with "This song is for those who never did come back, All-American Kid." With "People Loving People," he tackles current events with a distinctly apolitical solution ("People loving people, that's the enemy of everything that's evil") wrapped in a rousing country-rock fist-pumper.

It's no surprise that parenthood plays an important role in "Man Against Machine," including the lovely "Send 'Em on Down the Road" about letting your kids make their own mistakes. In "Mom," he delivers a stunning ballad tribute to motherhood, along the same lines of his classic "Unanswered Prayers," where God offers an unborn child a poignant pep talk about its upcoming life. Sure, Brooks was never afraid to get sappy, but this takes tenderness to a whole new high.

Not everything here works, "Fish" is especially clunky, but when Brooks wraps his vocals around the soulful "Tacoma," it becomes clear what country has been missing lately and how good it is to have him back.

GARTH BROOKS

Man Against Machine

THE GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE Finding his way back to country artistry

Top Stories

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.