Album Review: Ronnie Dunn’s ‘Tattooed Heart’

Twenty-five years ago this year, the voice of Ronnie Dunn made a major dent on Country Radio for the first time with “Brand New Man,” the debut single from Brooks & Dunn. Since then, his classic voice has graced such modern-day standards as “Neon Moon,” “She’s Not The Cheatin’ Kind,” “Believe,” and “Cost Of Livin.” It might seem strange to go there, but in a lot of ways, the voice of Ronnie Dunn has resonated with fans much the same way that Haggard and Jones did decades ago.

Am I saying that Dunn is in those leagues? Well, to my ears, he is. He’s one of a handful of artists over the past quarter-century that has helped to define the format. I’m not disrespecting the contributions of Kix Brooks, because after all…..neither has really achieved the same career peaks since the duo folded their cards in 2010. But, Dunn’s riveting vocal range has helped to make him one of the most-respected artists of his generation.

For his third solo record, the Oklahoma native continues to do what he does best – just sing. There are not a lot of frills or pyrotechnics on this disc, rather an artist perfecting his craft. And, there are few better at it. From the opening notes of “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” all the way through to the end of the album, Dunn simply lets the music tell the story. Granted, there is somewhat of an updated sound, as producer Jay DeMarcus (of Rascal Flatts) brings the Ronnie Dunn sound to today without losing any of his power. “Damn Drunk,” the set’s second single, is great proof of this. It doesn’t sound like anything he would have recorded ten or twenty years ago (though former partner Brooks lends harmonies to the track), with its’ in-your-face style, but at the end of the day, the star of the show is the voice – that same voice that has impacted listeners for years.

Other highlights on the album include the moody “I Worship The Woman You Walk On,” as well as the reflective “I Put That There,” which gives Dunn a chance to express a little bit of remorse over decisions that the subject of the song wishes he had back. Perhaps the greatest example of the singer continuing to evolve is his bluesy imprint on Ariana Grande’s “Tattooed Heart.” An idea given to Dunn by his daughter, it’s an experiment that could have failed miserably. And, with a singer unable to make his or her own mark on a track, this one might have. But, the pitch out of left field seems to leave home plate and float out of the ballpark. It would be nice to see this one get some consideration as a single.

He pairs with frequent collaborator Reba McEntire on the soaring “Still Feels Like Mexico,” and ends the album with a couple of songs that definitely feel like a throwback to the 90s – “Only Broken Heart In San Antone” and “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.” These tracks will encourage you to find a Country dance floor and two-step like it’s 1994. Nobody is recording songs like these anymore, and it’s a damn shame.

With this being released on Nash Icon – a partnership of Big Machine and Cumulus Radio, several stations won’t give this record a chance. That’s a bad decision on their part, as this shows one of the top artists of our time at full use of his musical powers, and we’re the better for listening!