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 – 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 Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [July 2011]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from July 18th, 2011.

  1. Jason Aldean – “Dirt Road Anthem” -5 [Worst Song]
  2. Chris Young – “Tomorrow” +2
  3. Blake Shelton – “Honey Bee” 0
  4. Zac Brown Band & Jimmy Buffett – “Knee Deep” +1
  5. Justin Moore – “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” +3
  6. Lady Antebellum – “Just A Kiss” -1
  7. Dierks Bentley – “Am I The Only One” -1
  8. Luke Bryan – “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” -5
  9. Brad Paisley & Carrie Underwood – “Remind Me” -1
  10. Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You & Tequila” +4
  11. Jake Owen – “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” +1 (I’ll explain why later on)
  12. Trace Adkins – “Just Fishin'” +2
  13. Eric Church – “Homeboy” +3
  14. George Strait – “Here For A Good Time” +2
  15. Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone” +2
  16. Toby Keith – “Made In America” 0
  17. Rodney Atkins – “Take A Back Road” -1
  18. Scotty McCreery – “I Love You This Big” -2
  19. Eli Young Band – “Crazy Girl” -1
  20. Keith Urban – “Long Hot Summer” -1 (I actually think this is a good pop song. But if we’re going by country standards…)
  21. Thompson Square – “I Got You” 0
  22. Brantley Gilbert – “Country Must Be Country Wide” -2
  23. Jerrod Niemann – “One More Drinkin’ Song” 0
  24. Steve Holy – “Love Don’t Run” 0
  25. Darius Rucker – “I Got Nothin'” +2
  26. Ronnie Dunn – “Cost Of Livin'” +5 [Best Song]
  27. Frankie Ballard – “A Buncha Girls” -2
  28. David Nail – “Let It Rain” +2
  29. Craig Campbell – “Fish” -3 (Yes Craig, we get it…)
  30. Joe Nichols – “Take It Off” -2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +2

Even with two outright atrocious songs we managed to net a positive score! Out of 150, a positive two isn’t really that impressive but hey, it’s better than the charts in 2016.

As for our best songs, Ronnie Dunn’s “Cost Of Livin'” takes it running away with what I consider to be one of the best songs mainstream or otherwise of the past couple years. Even though radio was a little different back then, I’m shocked a song like this cracked the top twenty. Today I doubt it would chart. And while Kenny Chesney has been the butt of many jokes throughout the years, I’ve always liked the guy, and “You and Tequila” may be his best song ever. Other than that, there were a couple other good ones like “Homeboy” (although, I’m curious to hear what you guys think of this one), and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”.

Now, you might be wondering why I gave Jake Owen a positive score. If there has ever been anyone who could pull off a “bro” sound and actually make it somewhat enjoyable, I think it’s Jake Owen. He’s just got a natural charisma that often at least adds some life to his songs. I don’t think “Barefoot…” is a great song, but I never quite understand the hate for it.

As for the bad songs, they’re pretty easy to spot. Jason Aldean takes the “worst song” award easily with the horrendous country-rap song that was “Dirt Road Anthem.” “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” was ironically the first time we had to really come down hard on Luke Bryan for cutting a bad song. Other than that, Craig Campbell’s “Fish” always annoyed the heck out of me, and there are some other stinkers here too. Overall though, not a horrendous chart.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

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

Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – July 2015

July 2015

How about the month of July? Or I should rather say how about Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson and Ashley Monroe? These three artists dominated the month of July with their brand new albums because outside of these three major releases there wasn’t a ton of great new music to talk about. But hey these three albums were more than enough to keep me satisfied for the month. We’re set for a lot more releases coming up in August. But we’ll get to those at another time. For now let’s look back on what I considered the absolute best songs from the month of July.

  1. Jason Isbell – “24 Frames” – The absolute gem off of arguably the best album of the year tops this list for me. Isbell’s new album Something More Than Free is a fantastic listen from start to finish and it’s only gotten better the more I’ve listened to it. Despite all of the great songs, the one that sticks out most to me and resonates with me the most is “24 Frames.” It’s a song about life so rooted in reality. In addition it’s catchy and the instrumentation for it is flawless. By the way it sounds just as good live too, as I highly recommend you see Isbell live, as it made me appreciate this album even more.
  2. Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free” – I debated back and forth for a while on these top two songs’ placements, but I gave “24 Frames” ultimately by a hair. The album title track is pretty damn good itself and I’m surprised I haven’t seen more praise for it. It’s a beautiful song that shows off Isbell’s vocal and songwriting ability.
  3. Alan Jackson – “The One You’re Waiting On” – There’s a reason country music fans were waiting in anticipating for months for July 17 to come, as new albums from Isbell and Alan Jackson will certainly do this. And they definitely lived up to hype. Jackson’s new album Angels & Alcohol was almost just as good as Isbell’s and there’s a reason these two battled it out for the top spot on the Billboard Top Country Albums this past week. The standout to me of the album was “The One You’re Waiting On,” one of those songs you know is just another instant classic from Jackson. Only an artist like Jackson can pull off this type of song with such grace and respect.
  4. Alan Jackson – “Gone Before You Met Me” – Jackson sings about the importance of family to him in this song. Again like the top two Isbell songs, these two Jackson songs are pretty much equally good in my eyes. This song reminds us there are still country artists out there not afraid to sing about family, something missing from mainstream country radio.
  5. Ashley Monroe – “Has Anybody Ever Told You” – I didn’t enjoy Ashley Monroe’s new album The Blade as much as I wanted to enjoy it, but it’s still a good album nonetheless. My big problem with it was that it had too many songs trying to be radio friendly, instead of staying in Monroe’s traditional wheelhouse. One of the songs that did though and was my favorite of the album is “Has Anybody Ever Told You.” It’s a tender love song that allows Monroe to shine her brightest.
  6. Will Hoge – “Still A Southern Man” – Will Hoge is not one to shy away from singing controversial songs and “Still A Southern Man” is another example. The amount of conviction and attitude behind the lyrics of this song, along with the rollicking guitars throughout it, thoroughly impressed me. We need more bold songs like this one. (This song is currently not on Spotify, which is why it isn’t on the playlist below)
  7. Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town” – Isbell’s new album is a pretty happy one for the most part, but you knew there would be at least one tear jerker on it and that song is “Speed Trap Town.” The storytelling skills of Isbell through his lyrics is on full display here and it’s simply a song you need to hear for yourself.
  8. Alan Jackson – “You Can Always Come Home” – The opener to Jackson’s Angels & Alcohol is a song many parents and their kids leaving home can all connect with. Jackson knows how to perfectly frame these songs to get the right amount of emotion out of you and “You Can Always Come Home” is yet another example of it.
  9. Ashley Monroe – “If The Devil Don’t Want Me” – This Chris Stapleton co-write was the other highlight of The Blade for me. This song is traditional country music in every way.
  10. Jason Isbell – “How To Forget” – The last song to round out my top ten is a fourth Isbell song, “How To Forget.” What I love the most about this song is the brilliant instrumentation. This is the shining moment for Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, on Something More Than Free. As I said in my review, this is band you absolutely need to see in-person, as they’re quite underrated.

 

Honorable Mentions 

  • Rick Elliot’s new EP, West of the Rockies, just came out and I didn’t get a chance to really listen to it enough to consider it for this month’s top ten. But we’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Ronnie Dunn – “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” – There were too many strong songs this month for Dunn to make the top ten.
  • Jason Isbell – “To A Band That I Loved”
  • Alan Jackson – “When God Paints,” “I Leave A Light On” and “Angels & Alcohol”
  • Ashley Monroe – “The Blade” & “Mayflowers”