Album Review – Ronnie Dunn’s ‘Tattooed Heart’

ronnie-dunn-tattooed-heart

If you’ve followed Ronnie Dunn’s career in recent years, especially on social media, you would find that this is an artist who has no idea how to deal with being out of the spotlight and being in the back nine of his career. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot on my blog regarding older artists facing the reality that they’re no longer in their prime and have to accept fading into the background in favor of younger, more marketable artists. I’m not saying that this is fair and in fact I’ve argued against the ageist radio system in older artists’ favor. I’m just pointing out reality. Dunn has accepted this at times and other times doesn’t seem to accept it so much. He’s argued for traditionalists and he’s argued for more modern sounds. Long story short he’s been really inconsistent. So it’s no surprise on his new album Tattooed Heart that he’s once again inconsistent and seems to hedge his bet between traditional and modern, leaning more towards the latter many times on this album.

There are many things I find wrong with Tattooed Heart, but before I get to that there are some songs Dunn gets right. One of these times is “I Worship The Woman You Walked On.” The song is about a man speaking to the ex of his current love and telling him about how he’s now loving the woman he had walked on before. He explains how he appreciates her the way he never did. The song importantly comes off more as empathetic rather than vengeful, which it easily could have. Another good song from Dunn is “Only Broken Heart in San Antone.” If there’s one theme Dunn can nail it’s heartbreak and he does it on this song. The song has a very cool and easy-going feeling about it, but this also perfectly encapsulates the loneliness of the broken-hearted person who can only see lonely in a moment of heartbreak. This song also features the most pedal steel guitar of the entire album, which would have really benefitted other songs. The only song to feature any fiddle on the album is the final song “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.” It’s a song about heartbreak and wanting not only a shot of alcohol in this moment of pain, but classic country like Strait and Jones. This a solid song, but it unfortunately contradicts a lot of the rest of the album.

I originally praised “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas” and after giving it fresh re-listens it just doesn’t resonate as much with me and suffers from much of the same problems I have with “Damn Drunk” and that’s it’s overuse of clichés. While they’re used to get the overall point of the songs across, they each get tiresome with more listens due to these very same clichés. They’re not necessarily bad songs, but clunky and lazy and with more effort could have been good songs. The clichés are most nauseatingly bad on “Young Buck.” This is essentially a letter written from an old bro to a new bro. It praises the cliché bro who drives trucks, chases girls and is the consummate “good ole American boy” according to this song. Songs like this make me gag because it frames reality like it’s some corny, drive-in movie from the 50s America.

You would think Reba’s guest appearance on a song would lead to something good, but “Still Feels Like Mexico” feels like the same old crap we’ve heard from Nashville pop from the synth-y production to the predictable beach love theme. This song is not much different from Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” or Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime.” In fact I would say it’s worse than those songs. Dunn probably should have taken the time to take cues from Reba’s latest album, which chases modern sounds a couple of times, but for the most part is decidedly Reba music that complimented her strengths and didn’t alienate her fan base. Or in Dunn’s case, doesn’t confuse the shit out of the listener, who I imagine expects more traditional country from him.

The biggest problem of this album is also it’s greatest irony. Older artists like Ronnie Dunn love to complain about pop artists like Beyoncé performing at country awards show and say that country can stand just fine on it’s own, yet on their albums have palpable, straight up pop influences. Take for example “That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels” and “I Put That There.” These are straight up pop songs and bad ones at that if I might add. So it’s okay to poorly steal from other genres, yet decry their artists? Once again the hypocriticalness and ineptness of the genre shines through. The hypocriticalness reaches critical mass on the title track, Dunn’s cover of Ariana Grande’s “Tattooed Heart.” It’s not that Dunn’s cover of this song is terrible, it’s just that doesn’t fit him and it’s a blatant attempt at crossover appeal and trying to be hip. It’s so transparent and not to mention is worse than the original version. This was a song meant to be sung from the point of view of a young woman, not a 63-year-old man. This old meme sums it up:

buschemi-meme

Ronnie Dunn had a few good things going with Tattooed Heart and if he built on them this album could have been good. Instead like many other artists on major labels he falls prey to the lure of renewed fame and spotlight by chasing after modern appealing sounds and covering a pop starlet. Ronnie Dunn can do better and has shown this many times throughout his career in Brooks and Dunn. But he’ll never rediscover it if he continues to chase after something that just isn’t there anymore. You can’t rewind the clock and you can’t re-live the past. You can only move forward from where you’re at now.

Grade: 4/10

 

Recommend? – No

Album Highlights: Only Broken Heart in San Antone, She Don’t Honky Tonk No More, I Worship The Woman You Walked On

Bad Songs: Young Buck, That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels, I Put That There, Still Feels Like Mexico

Wallpaper: I Wanna Love Like That Again, This Old Heart


Review – Artists of Then, Now & Forever’s “Forever Country”

forever-country

So I’m just going to state right up front this isn’t going to be your ordinary, standard review. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever reviewed on the site and contemplated not even reviewing it due to its uniqueness. But I’ve been asked for my thoughts and it’s gotten a fair amount of attention at radio and in sales. Plus I love a challenge. So I decided to tackle “Forever Country.” To give background on the song, it’s been slowly hyped up by the numerous artists apart of it in the build up to its release. If you follow one of these artists on social media, chances are you’ve heard a clip of them singing on the song to give their fans a taste of their participation. This is all for promoting and honoring the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards coming up on November 2. And it’s impressive the amount of artists that are on-board with this song. In the order they appear on the song, here are the 30 artists who take part in “Forever Country”:

  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Tim McGraw
  • Faith Hill
  • Little Big Town
  • Luke Bryan
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Eric Church
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charley Pride
  • Randy Travis
  • Dierks Bentley
  • Trisha Yearwood
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Martina McBride
  • Darius Rucker
  • Jason Aldean
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Willie Nelson
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Alabama
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Reba
  • Alan Jackson
  • Vince Gill
  • Dolly Parton

For the most part that’s a pretty impressive lineup and it does a great job of showcasing various eras of country music, although I would say it’s noticeably missing Garth Brooks (he most likely isn’t a part of this because the song is available on services he’s against such as iTunes, Spotify and YouTube, which has also kept him from being apart of other collaborations too). The song itself is a medley mashup of three iconic songs: John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” I really can’t argue with these choices, as they’re all classics in my book. Some might take offense to a pop country artist like John Denver being one of the three artists highlighted here (somewhere the ghost of Charlie Rich is surely pissed), but he’s arguably one of the best pop country artists in the genre’s history. “Country Roads” seems to get the most time in the song upon the first listens, but after further listens and paying close attention I found all three songs got pretty equal time.

“Country Roads” does lead off and appropriately the West Virginia-born Brad Paisley is the one who leads the song. We also get a lot of pedal steel guitar up front and throughout the song, which kudos to the organizers of this song for doing the right thing. One interesting moment that catches my eye is how close Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton are to each other in the song. Luke Bryan separates each of their solo lines and I’m sure the proximity of the ex couple was merely coincidence, but nevertheless I had to point it out. Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church and George Strait all sing near each other, which put a smile on my face. Willie Nelson getting a prominent spot in the middle was definitely the right call. I thought Brett Eldredge sounded really good when he sang his parts and made me wish he would go in a more traditional direction, as his rich voice can really shine when paired with a good song. Brooks & Dunn and Alabama, two of the most prominent groups in country music history, singing together is a special moment. Reba gets the honor of leading off the main part of “I Will Always Love You” and nails it of course. Then Alan Jackson and Vince Gill following makes it one of my favorite moments in the song. Carrie Underwood leading the chorus is the perfect choice, as she can belt that line like both Dolly and Whitney Houston have done it. Then various artists layer all three songs together to create a crescendo until the finish where the queen of country music, Dolly Parton caps it off perfectly. Whoever made the choice to have Dolly close the song is genius.

I think “Forever Country” is a special moment that perfectly honors country music. And unlike other massive collaborations like “We Are The World,” this song isn’t cheesy and sanctimonious. I think a lot of credit is owed to the producer of the song, Shane McAnally. It’s not easy task melding these songs and these performers together, but he managed to really pull it off well. Everyone involved with this should be proud of their efforts and I hope to see a live performance of this at the CMA Awards because it would certainly be a memorable moment. I’m not sure this song will be remembered years from now, but in the moment it’s a really enjoyable collaboration. It’s hard not to get emotional as a country fan listening to this and as a result makes it impossible for me to really nitpick or dislike.

Grade: Two Thumbs Up 

Video is here now and it is amazing! Check it out:

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

The Hodgepodge: Could Billboard’s Americana Chart Lead to the Radio Split We’ve Been Waiting For?

Last week Americana music fans and journalists were excited to learn that Billboard would add an Americana chart to their publishing. It’s a chart that’ll give home to many of the country artists we’ve seen ignored in Nashville, as well as root/folk rockers like The Lumineers. The chart debuted this week, along with Country Perspective’s first Americana Pulse feature. The chart gives a spotlight to artists popular in Americana, with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, The Lumineers, Alabama Shakes, and Loretta Lynn finding their way into the top 15.

Take another look at the top artist on the chart and the 15th artist. You have Chris Stapleton, a modern country artist with a traditional sound and Loretta Lynn, a country music legend on the same chart. This is exactly what NASH Icons was supposed to do, right? NASH Icons was coming out of the woodwork in response to the cry for the country sound to return to radio grew to deafening levels. Unfortunately for NASH Icons, the experiment has been slow-moving, and the artists who’ve signed on so far, haven’t made much noise. Reba‘s NASH Icons album was great, but that’s about it for Icons so far.

But with the addition of an Americana chart to Billboard, perhaps we may see a growth in Americana radio stations. Not that radio is a sustainable medium nowadays, even for the immensely popular mainstream country music, but radio still appears to be important to most labels, managers, and fans. There aren’t many available Americana radio stations as it is, but even a double in the number of stations could be beneficial, even adding a station to more major markets. For instance, the KUSH in Cushing, OK is the station I’m able to listen to…if I drive state highways through small towns away from the OKC metro area and interstate on my drive to and from work. Besides that commute being out of my way for a drive, I still only get the AM signal for about 20-30 minutes.

My interest in Americana radio has grown ever since I’ve found that station which one time included a playlist of Corb Lund, Jason Boland, and Hailey Whitters back-to-back-to-back! My first tweet after learning about the new Billboard chart was wondering if Americana radio would grow in light of the official chart. With mainstream artists like Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson appearing on Americana charts (AMAs and Billboard), Americana gives a potential home to quality country artists who are ignored on radio while Dustin Lynch gets his third meaningless number one single while simultaneously citing Sugar Ray as an influential musical style.

More and more, it seems like mainstream artists are embracing genres away from country. Little Big Town is working with Pharrell on a side project, Florida Georgia Line (while passing off an R&B AC song as country) are covering the Backstreet Boys, and Sam Hunt and Old Dominion still think they’re making good music (let alone, country music).

In 2016’s first Hodgepodge, I noted that two things I’d like to see this year is a radio split and more spotlight on Americana and independent country music. With Billboard’s new Americana chart, one of those two has become a reality. Adding a chart for Americana is a great step in the effort to give these artists more of the spotlight they deserve. Maybe now Americana wouldn’t be an afterthought. Maybe the Grammys will embrace it as a major category, maybe the Americana Music Awards can find a TV deal. There’s more spotlight on the music, but now we need more avenues to play the music.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Dierks Bentley‘s Black will be released on May 27th.
  • Maren Morris‘ debut album, Hero, will be released on June 3rd.
  • A recent release from the Netherlands to checkout is Maurice van Hoek‘s newest album, Live Forevermore. 
  • Brandy Clark‘s Big Day in a Small Town will be released on June 10th.
  • Jon Pardi‘s California Sunrise will be released on June 17th.
  • Mark Chesnutt will release a new album on July 8th called Tradition Lives.

Throwback Thursday Song

Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder”One of my favorite Kellie Pickler songs. The second single from Pickler’s debut, Small Town Girl, “I Wonder” is written about a girl who wonders what life is like for her estranged parents. While Pickler didn’t write the song, it’s personal to her as her mother left the family when Kellie was just two, and her father was in and out of jail while she grew up.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


Alessia Cara’s Know-It-All. The university I work for is already starting Freshman Orientation, and I’ve been working many of the sessions which include pop music playlists. I’ve grown to like Alessia Cara’s “Here” and don’t mine “Wild Things.” I’ve ventured to explore her debut album from last year, and I enjoyed listening to it. She had a hand in writing all 10 songs on the album, and the production on several of the tracks are well done.

Tweet of the Week

Sometimes, people need to be told where to find the good music. I needed to be told, and sometimes still do. If Simmons’ tweet is true, why did we get so many “Who is Chris Stapleton?” tweets?

Two iTunes Reviews for Blake Shelton

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Both these reviews make the point of how bland and boring Shelton’s vocals are on If I’m Honest. These are not the first two people I’ve heard say this, hence why I’m not going to listen to the album.

And that second review started off so wonderfully, and then crashed at the mention of Luke Bryan.

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