Who’s that hiding behind Garth Brooks’ beard on the cover of Beyond the Season? Is it Billy Joel, the likely inspiration for Brooks’ kitschy lounge-act mutilation of ”Go Tell It on the Mountain”? Is it George Strait, who might have come up with Brooks’ jazz-swing version of ”White Christmas” ? Or is it Buck Owens, whose distinctive phrasing and vocal inflections Brooks copies down to the last nuance on ”Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy”? This may be a Christmas album, but the man behind the beard isn’t old Saint Nick, because Santa always delivers.
For the most part, Brooks’ album is the equivalent of last-minute shopping, gifts hastily selected without much thought toward originality or pleasing the recipient, only of fulfilling the obligation. Instead of writing a batch of somgs, Brooks ties to put a new gleam on too many old chestnuts. Sometimes the renditions work — Brooks sings like a choirboy on Stephanie Davis’ magnificent ”The Gift,” a touching and finely written new song about a Mexican orphan who sacrifices her most precious posession — but mostly they don’t. Applying hillbilly vocal leaps to traditional carols is a lot like putting fringe on a wedding dress. Christmas albums are often lightweight offerings, but when the performer is the best-selling pop artist of the last two seasons, you expect a little bigger box under the tree. C+