ALBUM REVIEW: Brooks & Dunn – ‘Reboot’

Before country had R ‘n’ B, country had B ‘n’ D.  Since the outstanding news dropped early in 2019 that Brooks and Dunn had a new album on the way, to be filled with tantalising collaborations with today’s country artists, I’ve been a bit giddy. And we’ve been drip-fed singles over the last few weeks, which only heightened the anticipation; well done Marketing.

Produced by Dann Huff and released under the Arista Nashville label, Reboot is finally here, and it is perfect for dedicated Brooks and Dunn fans as well as a new audience, both in the US and the UK.

When they burst onto the country scene in 1991 Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn immediately dominated country music, winning Vocal Duo of the Year from the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACMs) 15 out of their 18 nominations, spanning two decades.  Their debut album, Brand New Man has sold six million copies; five of the tracks appear on Reboot.  They quite simply paved the way for Sugarland, Florida Georgia Line, High Valley, Dan + Shay and the Brothers we revere as Osborne (the most spine-tingling collaboration on Reboot?  Read on to find out). 

Luke Combs’ 2018 visits to the UK reminded us that Brooks and Dunn are legends, thanks to his obvious respect and appreciation for the Brooks and Dunn brand of honkytonk.  Combs was also instrumental in lighting the flame under this project, thanks to fanboying over his love for the Boot Scootin’ duo during a chance meeting with manager, Clarence Spalding. 

So it’s only fitting that Combs is the first collaboration on Reboot – a power punch of the first single (which reached #1) for Brooks and Dunn: Brand New Man.  Remaining faithful to the original hit, it is hard at places to tell where Combs voice ends and Dunn’s voice begins. One thing is for sure, the steel guitar remains. AND I can’t wait for the 2019 ACM appearances.

They say opposites attract, and the contrast in vocals between Brett Young and Ronnie Dunn on their 2001 hit, Ain’t Nothin ‘Bout You works.  Young adds a soulful element to the song, as Dunn’s range soars and harmonises across the refrains.

My Next Broken Heart, with Jon Pardi is a great pairing, and it almost feels like I’m with them in the honkytonk, wondering who the next heartbreaker is.  There is a clear distinction between the two vocalists on this fun, up-tempo track that audiences will lap up.

Kacey Musgraves works her production and clear vocal skills on the third consecutive number one for Brooks and Dunn, Neon Moon, delivering a sharp and poignant tribute to the ballad of heartbreak.  The song feels like it would fit perfectly on a Musgraves album.

Tyler Booth, probably the newest modern country collaborator on Reboot, lends his vocals to the first song that Kix Brooks leads, Lost and Found.  The mid-tempo track tracks a woman over a weekend, in a border town, who becomes “crazy on a full moon”.  Okay.

Now, shall we just have a moment?  Brothers Osborne and Brooks and Dunn.  Together.  Hard Workin’ Man ishands down the best track on a superb twelve track album.  John’s strings open the song and ten seconds later TJ’s bass vocals arrive with a steel banging percussion.  And then Ronnie’s vocals join the party and Kix notches up the electric atmosphere.   The next country quartet?  A country rock super-duo?  All I do know is there are future original duet possibilities here.

You’re Gonna Miss Me, with Ashley McBryde, removes the percussions from the intro, focussing on the sweet steel guitar.  The slowed down version of the song is the second Kix Brooks led song on Reboot and works well with Ashley’s range, as they tell the story of a relationship that’s ending. 

The collaboration keeping me awake at night was My Maria. The cover was a #1 hit for Brooks and Dunn in 1996, and the first song of theirs I heard – and consequently didn’t stop singing along to for the next year.  And doesn’t Thomas Rhett just enhance the experience, in his inimitable way? The updated production keeps the structure of the song, amid the technical tidying up.  And instead of the mid-west, I want to head to Key West, thanks to the addition of island vibes.

The pairing of Midland with Brooks and Dunn on Boot Scootin’ Boogie, a honkytonk classic, is probably the most familiar track to all music fans.  I suspect it’s still played across Line Dancing halls and Nashville club events across the USA and UK.  The quintet keep this version sharp and fun.

The final song which Kix Brooks leads vocals on, Mama Don’t Get Dressed up for Nothing, is another classic Brooks and Dunn number from the number one 1996 Borderline album, although this single only made the top twenty.  The LANCO collaboration is managed well, as there is potential for five members working with a duo to become a little muddled.  It would have been interesting to see how a female singer handled a duet.  

Red Dirt Road brings hard working Cody Johnson on board (who has just scored his first top ten album). The trio work the ballad into a haunting memory piece, with steel and electric guitars providing the punctuated riffs.

The country narrative of Believe, the story of “old man Wrigley” and how he deals with the loss of his family is the final song on Reboot, and the most different.  Kane Brown’s baritone paired with the unique vocals of Ronnie ensures the collaboration is taut and faithful to the original delivery, with a modern and clean production.

Wait, the album’s over already?  Where’s that repeat button?

Emma Jordan
@dgtlwriter