Review – Ronnie Dunn’s “Damn Drunk” (feat. Kix Brooks)

Ronnie Dunn Damn Drunk

In 2014 Cumulus Media announced the bold and ambitious-minded Nash Icon label. It would be a partnership with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records and would serve as a new home to veteran artists who had seemingly been forgotten by other labels and mainstream. This would be in conjunction with the new Nash Icon stations that would play older country music and play the new music from these older, traditionally leaning artists. High expectations were set and now two years later it hasn’t come close to meeting them. While Reba was able to get a single into the top 30 and released a pretty good album, that’s been the highlight of this whole project. Martina McBride released a mediocre new album. Hank Williams Jr. released an even worse album earlier this year. Then we have Ronnie Dunn, who has yet to release an album yet under the label. The lead single for it was released last year, “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas,” which only peaked at #42 on the airplay chart. Now Dunn is back with a new single, “Damn Drunk,” and a familiar face accompanying him.

The song opens with some synth-like beats and a light backing chorus. It’s not exactly the start I envision in a Ronnie Dunn song, but thankfully it gets better as the song goes. The song itself is a love song about a man professing the love he has towards his woman and proceeds to use several metaphors and phrases to make how clear he loves her. The song centers on one comparison in particular, the hook of the song “if you were a whiskey, girl, I’d be a damn drunk.” It gets across quite clearly he loves her and it’s an easy comparison for the listener to comprehend. It must be said however it is a little cheesy and a tad cliché. But what makes it and the entire song ultimately work is it has a lot of heart and Dunn’s brings a passionate vocal performance to the table here. Halfway through his old buddy Kix Brooks shows up to sing harmony and the listeners who have been wanting a Brooks & Dunn reunion sort of get their wish. It’s kind of weird that these two are singing together in a song, yet it’s not by Brooks & Dunn. In the end it’s just semantics of course.

Overall “Damn Drunk” is a solid single from Ronnie Dunn. The only things that keep me from liking this song more is the production leans a little too much at times towards modern sensibilities, the backing chorus is completely unnecessary and the lyrics aren’t exactly heavy. But thankfully Dunn and Brooks bring a great vocal performance and wring everything they can out of the lyrics. It’s certainly an improvement over a lot of what we hear at radio and would be welcome if it got a lot of airplay. I’m not so sure it can, but it’s picking a decent time to go for adds (I think September would have been best). After hearing the first two singles, let’s hope the album from Dunn set for release in October is just as good. In a world where Sam Hunt and Old Dominion are on country radio, hearing the voice of Ronnie Dunn is quite refreshing.

Grade: 7/10

Written by: Liz Hengber, Alex Kline & Ben Stennis

Review – Martina McBride’s “Reckless”

Martina McBride Reckless

When you think of popular country artists of the 90s, Martina McBride is undoubtedly a name towards the top of the list. After all she racked up numerous awards and scored 12 top ten hits, including four #1 songs. Just like Shania Twain, Garth Brooks and numerous others she capitalized on the more pop sounding country that soared in popularity. McBride was one of the top female acts in country music until the mid to late 2000s, maintaining a solid presence at radio. Of course in recent years older acts such as herself have been pushed off radio. McBride even lost major label status after parting ways with Republic Nashville after her lone album with them in 2011. But now she’s back on a major label, as she signed to Big Machine Label Group’s NASH Icon label. Alongside other 90s stalwarts Ronnie Dunn and Reba, McBride looks to recapture mainstream attention with the backing of the NASH label. McBride has just released her single under her new label is “Reckless,” the lead song from her new upcoming album.

This is a song that McBride fans are going to instantly love, as it harkens back to McBride’s music in the mid to late 90s. You’ll recognize right away the lingering piano and acoustic guitar that stays present throughout the song. This is combined with the lightweight, pop production that makes the song feel a little flimsy, but also allows McBride’s vocals to be the focal point of the song. The song itself is about a reckless woman who is thankful and a little surprised for the man in her life loving her. She says he has to be a little reckless himself to be with a woman like herself. And if you think this theme sounds boring and uninteresting I would agree with you. Whether you look at the lyrics or production, there’s just not a lot of meat to the song. Martina herself sounds a little quiet, which is weird because McBride has such powerful voice. Everything about this song just feels half-baked.

Martina McBride is undoubtedly capable of producing better music than “Reckless.” I’m a little shocked this was chosen as a lead single, as I would think they’d have chosen a power love ballad to be the lead single. This would play right into McBride’s wheelhouse and would give her a great chance at getting noticed at radio. Cam and Jana Kramer proved over the last year radio will accept these types of songs. Then again Ronnie Dunn played to his strength with his lead single and stalled out at radio, while Reba attempted to hawk the current popular sound and failed to gain much traction too. I see the same thing happening to McBride, which is a shame because female country artists are gaining a lot of traction right now at radio. You can only hope the album is better. Only Martina McBride fans will find “Reckless” to be worth the time, while the rest of us will hear it once and forget about it within a week.

Grade: 4/10

Album Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘It’s About Time’

hank-williams-jr-its-about-time

This review was written by a past guest contributor of Country Perspective. 

The start of a new year is the perfect time to start anew. For Hank Jr., it’s quite appropriate that he’s releasing his first album of new material in four years under a new label in Big Machine’s Nash Icon imprint. After a long career with Curb Records that spanned more than forty years and produced more than fifty studio albums, as well as releasing an album through his own “Bocephus Records” in 2012, it seemed like Hank was more than ready to move on to bigger and better things and release a new album. In fact, Hank even deemed his new studio album, “It’s About Time” his best work yet. That’s quite a lofty expectation from a singer who many would say had his best work in the 80s.

When it comes to what I think of the country legend, I don’t have much of an opinion. As a child of the 2000s, I can’t exactly say that I grew up with his music, nor have I ever really actively sought it out. And really, this isn’t surprising considering Hank is one of the more forgotten legends when you think of artists who were active in the 80s. It’s not like Hank is a bad artist mind you, he just hasn’t always caught my attention. But like I said, it’s a new year, and it’s a time to try new things, which is why I decided to take the plunge and see what Hank’s new album was like.

The album starts off with the lead single, “Are You Ready For The Country”, a duet with Eric Church and originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and penned by Neil Young. Honestly, I think this is one of the better tracks on the album, especially given that I think the fiddle work is solid here, but I can understand where people would be indifferent towards this and think of it as nothing but a retread. As Josh said in his review: “Overall this isn’t a bad song nor is it a good song. It’s one of those songs that just exists and you really have no opinion of it. The best things you can say about the song is at least it’s country and it’s not offensive. As I said about the vocal performances, I think they’re good and get the job done. But nothing is really done to elevate this song and re-invent it, which maybe you really can’t do to a song like this one.

The next song is “Club U.S.A.” Now, anyone who knows Hank knows he can get a little political at times (and boy is this an understatement), and thankfully It’s About Time only has political moments rather than being an overall political album. “Club U.S.A” is kind of one of those moments. The song’s theme is pretty simple. Hank Jr. tells us how America is the greatest country in the world and how everyone who isn’t already here wishes they were. As for the song itself, it’s very overproduced, loud southern rock, often times drowning out the vocal track during the verses to the point where upon first listen, the only thing I could make out in this song was Hank screaming the title. Next up is “God Fearin’ Man,” a song that continues on the tradition of the first two tracks by being loud, overproduced and rockin’. Really, this song isn’t thematically or lyrically bad, but I feel like it would have benefited from a more relaxed production. Hell, even Hank says himself at the end, “man, they played like they were pissed.” In addition to this little talking bit, Hank also proclaims, “Are You Ready For The Country?” Yes Hank, we’re already past that song. Let it go buddy.

“Those Days Are Gone” is arguably the best song on the album. It’s a solid honky-tonk number that actually allows the production to breathe (well, at least as much as it can….) for the first time on this album. In this song, Hank reminisces on the good ol’ days, and how he misses guys like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and David Allan Coe, especially on country radio. He acknowledges that those days are gone however, and aren’t coming back. It’s not a great song, mind you, but it’s at least a good song. The best song on the album is followed up by the absolute worst song on the album, “Dress Like An Icon.” The theme of this song contradicts pretty much every other theme on this album. Where a song like “God Fearin’ Man” celebrates the working class hero, or a song like “Those Days Are Gone” laments on the current state of country music, “Dress Like An Icon” pretty much says that if you want to gain any sort of recognition in life, you have to not be yourself. Instead you should “step like Nicki Minaj,” “wear black like Johnny Cash,” and get a load of this one, “have them stacked like Dolly Parton.” I shit you not, those are actual things promoted here.

Not that trying to emulate someone like Johnny Cash or Dolly is bad mind you, but it’s sad when we have a country legend promoting everyone to be fake and flashy to get to the top. I have to wonder if this song hadn’t already existed for a while now, as I definitely think a few mainstream country artists had already heard this. That’s not to mention that the production is once again completely overdone, and Hank sounds bored as can be on this song. Plus, you’re telling me that Hank is on Nash Icon and recorded a song called “Dress Like An Icon” purely out of coincidence? I think not. Skip this song entirely. Surprisingly enough this is one of five songs on the album that was written purely by Hank, making this song all the more frustrating.

Hank gets political again on “God and Guns,” and if it sounds familiar, it is. Southern-rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd covered it for their 2009 album of the same name. This song calls to question what kind of world we would live in if politicians took our guns and God, and it’s a good thing people like Hank are around to prevent that from happening. I’m not going to go any into any further detail with the song. You already know whether you’d like or wouldn’t like this song based on the description I just gave, so we’ll leave it at that. “Just Call Me Hank” is Hank’s way of reflecting upon himself, and his career. He states that he never thought he’d shed the lovesick blues (an allusion to always living in his father’s shadow), and that he doesn’t play many shows anymore, but when he does, he wants it to be real and rocking. This song really didn’t bother me until we hit the chorus. Once it hits, Hank proclaims:

“Don’t call me an icon, don’t care about the hall of fame”

OK……weren’t you just the one who literally said you have to dress like an icon to achieve any sort of prominence? Hell, he even says at the end of “Dress Like An Icon” that he’s an icon! Still, the song overall isn’t bad. The production here at least fits into the country category rather than the overwrought southern rock mold. There’s at least some heart to this that I can appreciate. “Mental Revenge” is another cover of a Waylon Jennings song and really, there isn’t much to say here. This version is a heck of a lot more upbeat, which doesn’t fit the mood of the song at all. Just stick with the original, or even Jamey Johnson’s fantastic version from his 2010, The Guitar Song album. Where “Just Call Me Hank” found Hank reflecting on the past, “It’s About Time” focuses on the future. The song starts off with Hank stating where he wants to go on his journey in life next, which is back home to Alabama. The song then takes a complete left turn when the chorus hits, saying it’s about time Hank plays some real country and southern rock to wash out the “weird pop-country sound.” There have been protest songs that have been done better, but there’s at least a sense of belief to this song, even if Hank Jr. is still on a major label which has supported pop-country acts. You can look at “The Party’s On” as a watered down version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” or a bro-country song, and you’d probably be right on both counts. There’s not much to say about this song other than that.

“Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (God’s Got It)” is about a man who goes fishing. He manages to hook a big fish, and surprisingly enough the fish can’t get away. He then proclaims that he wishes Jesus had a hook on him similar to the one that the man has on the fish. One night, Jesus finally does hook him! When he tries to tell everyone that Jesus came unto him, nobody believes him. Later on, he proclaims that if you have a friend in Jesus, you can have anything you want. Heck, a friend? Sure. Shoulder to cry on? Sure, God can do that. New car? Sure….wait what?!? It’s as completely ridiculous as it sounds. The theme of this song moves from fishing, to finding Jesus and then getting things just because you’re Jesus’s friend? Seriously what is the overall message here? If the story doesn’t sound hokey enough, the production will surely do it for you. Of all the spots where the production is just way too much, this song takes the cake by a long shot. Complete with gospel singers and a completely overwrought vocal performance, this song is just way too much. That’s not to mention the fact that it’s six freakin’ minutes long! And really, once you’re halfway through the song it’s essentially just repetitive and boring. The album comes to a close with a rendition of Hank’s very own hit, “Born To Boogie” with Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore and Brad Paisley (Was Earl Dibbles Jr. busy that day Hank?). I’ll say the same thing here that I said about “Mental Revenge”, skip this and just listen to the original. You’ll be much better off.

Overall, if you were a Hank Jr. fan going into this album, then you’ll most likely enjoy this and hey more power to you. For others, “It’s About Time” is full of pretty much nothing but a lot loud, obnoxious and overdone southern rock, retreads of old songs, and a few redeeming moments. Considering this is Hank’s first new album in four years, and considering that it’s the first on a brand new label, it just feels like there wasn’t a lot of effort put into It’s About Time. It’s certainly not going to be anywhere close to the worst country album you’ll hear this year, but it’s hard to recommend It’s About Time to anyone but hardcore Hank Jr. fans.

Grade: 4/10

Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s “Are You Ready For The Country”

Hank Williams Jr. It's About Time

When it comes to country music, the name Hank Williams is synonymous with it. Hank Williams is one of the forefathers and legends who built the genre. He was an irreplaceable icon whose impact shaped the genre and influenced it more than anyone could fathom. His son, Hank Williams Jr., has made an impact of his own. It’s not an easy task following your iconic father, but Hank Jr. has made his own name. For decades he has made music that’s captured the hearts and attentions of music fans across the world. While he started out making neo-traditional country like his father, Williams is best known for his mixing of traditional country, blues and southern rock. He’s been off the radar a little bit in the music world in recent years, but has re-emerged to the forefront after signing a deal with the label NASH Icon. His first album under the label is set to be released in January and the lead single is a familiar tune to many fans. Williams has redone the classic “Are You Ready For The Country,” penned by Neil Young and made famous by Waylon Jennings.

Right away you can hear fiddles and drums as this song plays in. So it’s nice to know Hank kept the song decidedly country sounding. As far as what this song is about, critics and fans have argued over it for years. It’s simply one of those songs where you the listener have to determine what it means to you. This could be interpreted as an upbeat song about being country. Or maybe it’s about pride for one’s country. As I said it’s up to you. Williams himself still sounds pretty good vocally, really not showing any signs of wear at all. Williams is joined on the song by Eric Church, as the two opened this year’s CMA Awards by performing it. Church sounds pretty good himself and fits well alongside Williams. I don’t think Williams could have chosen someone better in terms of mainstream country artists to perform alongside him on this song. The instrumentation and production are certainly interesting though. While the early parts of the song are good, it gets more overboard as the song progresses. The backing chorus that comes in is unnecessary and drowns the song out. The drums are also too loud. I would have liked to have heard more of the pedal steel and fiddles.

Overall this isn’t a bad song nor is it a good song. It’s one of those songs that just exists and you really have no opinion of it. The best things you can say about the song is at least it’s country and it’s not offensive. As I said about the vocal performances, I think they’re good and get the job done. But nothing is really done to elevate this song and re-invent it, which maybe you really can’t do to a song like this one. It’s currently at #58 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and it has chance to go higher, as Church’s inclusion on it will entice some radio programmers to give it a spin. So far though NASH Icon hasn’t made much of an impact on country radio as it promised initially. I’ll be curious to see what Hank brings to the table on his new album come January. In the mean time, I would only recommend “Are You Ready For The Country” for the biggest fans of Williams and Church. Otherwise it’s pretty forgettable.

Grade: 5.5/10

(By the way, the lyric video doesn’t fit with the song at all. Not sure what they were going for here…)

Review – Ronnie Dunn’s “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas”

Ronnie Dunn Ain't No Trucks In Texas

When it comes to Ronnie Dunn’s career, it’s been a tale of two halves. In the first half, it was quite a wild and successful ride for Dunn. He was one half of one of the most iconic duos in country music history in Brooks & Dunn. Dunn and Kix Brooks racked up multiple #1 hits, platinum albums and numerous awards. Their mark on country music is no doubt impactful and will be remembered for years to come. In 2010, the group broke up and thus began Dunn’s second half of his career as a solo artist. He released a self-titled album in 2011, his first as a solo artist. It reached #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and in my view was a pretty solid album. The standout from it was “Cost of Livin’,” a song about a military veteran trying to find employment. In June 2012, Arista Nashville dropped him from his label and released an album last year under this own label, titled Peace, Love And Country Music. I did not get a chance to review this album, but I did listen to it and I offered some commentary on it last year when I wrote a response to Dunn’s Facebook post on older country artists. I thought the albums was a rocky listen and tried too hard to appeal to mainstream and quality at the same time. It didn’t have a clear direction at all.

Despite not really being a fan of that album (save a couple of songs), I have admired Ronnie Dunn’s tenacity and determination in recent years of making country music the right way and fighting for older artists. If you follow him on Facebook, he always has something on his mind and interacts with his fans all of the time. He truly cares about the business, his fans and the state of country music. Dunn has also endorsed several up and coming artists, including Sturgill Simpson. The great news for Dunn is his persistence paid off, as Scott Borchetta officially announced he signed him to his new label NASH Icon in January 2015, a label for older country artists still active in making music. For Dunn this was the opportunity he appeared to be seeking and his chance to continue to make an impact on the genre with his music. A few weeks back he released his first music through NASH Icon, the first single from a new upcoming album, titled “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas.”

It’s very much a Ronnie Dunn song, yet it’s also something that could appeal to radio. It has balance. I think one of the problems with Dunn releasing music through his own label was that there weren’t enough people to tell him no or suggest something different with his music. In other words, making music with a major label means there are more gatekeepers to help filter and cultivate the sound of the music. Dunn is a talented artist without a doubt, but even great talents need people around them to help hone in their sound and find the best fit. They’ve done it with “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas.” The song itself is about a bitter man who’s in a state of denial after a breakup. The denial runs so deep for him that he’s denying obvious things such as football in the south and bourbon in Kentucky. While these clichés that will annoy some people, to me it drives home the emotion of the song perfectly. It frames the mindset of the bitter, heartbroken man very well. Kudos to the writers of the song, Wendell Mobley, Tony Martin and Neil Thrasher. The production and instrumentation undoubtedly has some mainstream country tinges to it, but the core is without a doubt country. Like I said, this song does a great job balancing between quality and radio, the biggest problem Dunn had with his last album.

This isn’t the best song we’ve ever gotten from Ronnie Dunn, but it’s pretty solid nonetheless. This is the kind of song Dunn needed to kick off his start with Nash Icon. I think Dunn’s relationship with the label is an ideal situation for both sides and they could do a lot of good together. I’m looking forward to giving Dunn’s new album a listen if this single is an indicator of the direction it takes. “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” is one of the better singles I’ve heard from mainstream country in 2015.

Grade: 8/10