Ronnie Dunn has been a busy man. Barely nine months after drawing the curtain on his legendary career as half of the iconic Brooks & Dunn, the 58-year-old singer/songwriter isn’t considering retirement for a second. Takin’ it easy just doesn’t seem to interest Ronnie much as he returns with a hard-charging solo album about love, life on the road and what it means to be a hard working man.
From the amped-up honky tonk stomp of opener “Singer In A Cowboy Band,” it’s clear that Dunn is a man on a mission. “Mama don’t get it, Preacher don’t understand/ Why I’m a singer in a cowboy band,” he sings with conviction. And while the riffs and song structure are reminiscent of Brooks & Dunn favorites like “Play Something Country,” Ronnie is clearly taking charge here as he steps to center stage.
Besides serving as the project’s producer, Ronnie also wrote or co-wrote 9 of the album’s 12 songs. Along the way, he teamed up with such well-known Music City songwriters as Craig Wiseman, Terry McBride, David Lee Murphy and Dallas Davidson for collaboration. On the great up-tempo “How Far To Waco” (co-written with McBride), Dunn moves South of the Border by way of the Yoakam-Orbison expressway as his melodies cruise through mariachi horns and guitars with dirty distortion. “How much further do I have to go?” Dunn sings as his vibrato emphasizes the trip he’s taking to reach the object of his affection. “Bleed Red,” the album’s epic first single, is a grand production proclaiming the unity that runs through us all, beginning with the opening piano, the pounding bass drum, ringing guitars and dramatic string section.
This isn’t to say that the album doesn’t slow down the pace. On the gorgeous acoustic ballad “Cost Of Livin’,” Dunn captures both the desperation and pride of a returning veteran looking for a job in today’s downtrodden economy. Dunn’s first-person storytelling is compelling as he takes on the role as the job-seeker providing references, his strengths as an employee and that, “Yesterday my folks offered to help/ but they’re barely getting by themselves.” This is the sort of captivating storytelling that made songs like B & D’s “Believe” instant classics.
Throughout the collection, it’s evident that Dunn is a well-seasoned pro. There are revved up honky tonk tunes like “Let The Cowboy Rock” (co-written with Dallas Davidson) that make the perfect soundtrack for raising a glass in the bar. And others like “Love Owes Me,” with a sad, comforting melody for those times when just slamming it down is in order. Yet all the way through, Dunn delivers on a classic sound that will be familiar to fans of his former band yet also serves as an exciting step for what’s to come.