Dunn talks about his new album "Peace, Love, and Country Music" -- Listen to the exclusive premiere of "You Should See You Now"
Since the arrival of Brooks & Dunn on the scene in 1991 with "Brand New Man," Ronnie Dunn has been generally recognized as one of the most effective stylists in country music. Though the duo called it a day in 2010, his solo work still has that effect on listeners, with hits like "Bleed Red" and "Cost Of Livin" both succeeding at radio.
For his second solo album, Dunn is doing it his way. "Peace, Love, and Country Music" -- which will be released on Tuesday -- is his first on Little Will-E Records, his own imprint. The singer told The 615 that he enjoyed the freedom to make the music he wanted to make. "It's the first time I've done a record without a label looking over my shoulder," he said. "I don't feel like the process was that much different. I felt a little more freedom without having to go into A&R meetings, and have staff have input. Hopefully, in the end that will turn out to be an asset."
The project is his first in over two decades not to be affiliated with Arista, his label during his Brooks & Dunn days as well as for his first solo effort. Dunn said it's a different landscape now, and recording on your own label doesn't have the stigma of being "less than" like it might have in the 1980s or 1990s.
Listen to a new track:
"There was no compromise in terms of the players used or the studio facilities, and especially the songs," he admits. "I'm amazed that I got my hand on songs like 'I Wish I Still Smoked Cigarettes.' That's an outside song, and one like that usually makes one time around the pitch cycle before someone scarves it up."
The tune was co-written by one of Nashville's top tunesmiths in Luke Laird, someone that Dunn knew long before he started to gain success with his songs.
"Luke used to date my daughter," he says fondly. "When he first moved to town, he was young and shy, and going to Belmont. He never really mentioned that he had that big of an interest in songs. He would pick up a guitar and maybe play two or three chords, but he never pushed it around me. The next thing I knew a few years after they broke up, I see his name on Carrie Underwood's records, and he's all over the place. I'm so proud of him. He's one of the best guys that you could ever be in a room with, and the song paints such a vivid picture. It is so well-written."
One cut that some listeners might be familiar with is "Kiss You There," which Dunn premiered last year during the CMA Music Festival. He admits it might throw some longtime fans for a loop. It did him!
"Four or five publishers came over and pitched a total of about sixty songs one day. They were only able to play ten in the pitching session, so they each left a CD. After they left, I went through them, and I found it. Once I found out Don Schlitz had written it, I was curious. It was totally different than anything I had heard of. It was processed with a different sound, and the guy was rapping the words. I assigned a melody to it, and looped the drum machine in, and that's what we got."
The singer says that though he had the artistic freedom to stretch musically, just how far to expand those horizons remains a fine line. "It was an adjustment for me because I'm at the stage where as an artist -- without using that phrase too egotistically, you ask yourself how far do you push yourself before you wear out your welcome or you've gone too far. I think there's an expectation once you've been around for awhile to emulate the style and sound that you've done in the past that has worked. I don't know how you answer that rather than try to keep a healthy balance until it's not balanced anymore. You've got to keep trying to evolve," he said of his approach in the studio.
But, he didn't totally re-invent the musical wheel. Tracks like "Heart Letting Go" and "You Should See You Now" both have that emotional grit that will resonate with his fans. The latter is a particular favorite of Dunn. "How did I not think of that?" he asks. That vocal – going down in the studio – sometimes they just click and lock. Sometimes, you have to work a little bit to catch it, but that one felt really good. I like the unique twist that he puts on the hook. 'You look better than you did with me' He's looking back in a reflective sense."