With his latest record, 100 Proof Neon, Ronnie Dunn is taking things back. All the way back to a honky tonk somewhere in Texas, circa 1980, as a burgeoning Dunn is ready to take the stage.
As he was finding his footing in the music industry, in scenes like the one above, it was the bar tab that determined whether or not Dunn got to live to see another day on stage—was he making the crowd dance enough to make them call for another round?
It was those same floor-filling ambitions Dunn found himself aiming for while making 100 Proof Neon. Released back in July, 10 out of the 11 tracks are anthemic Texas-shuffle numbers that will make you want to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” all night long. The outlier is a slow ballad titled “The Blade,” but honestly, you could find a way to waltz along to that one too.
Full of honky tonk imagery, whisky, late nights, lost love, and more importantly neon lights, Dunn says this project is something he wanted to do for a while.
“We learned real quick in those clubs that we needed to keep the crowd up and dancing,” Dunn tells American Songwriter. “The album is pulling back to that ’80s sound. I let the creative horses run free and I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had.”
The aforementioned ballad on the album, “The Blade,” was originally released by Ashley Monroe for her album of the same name. Dunn first hesitated to put it on the album when it was brought to him, causing him to have to step back and let Monroe have her run with the song.
He says his decision to eventually cut the song anyway was in the spirit of the old days of country where artists would put their spin on each other’s songs, celebrating the genre in a freewheeling way.
“Back in the day, if Kristofferson wrote a song, everyone would cut it—Cash, Willie, Merle,” Dunn explains. “I like the fact that we’re putting such an emphasis on streaming now because it gives us the freedom to do that again.”
Elsewhere on the record are a couple of duets with newer artists who Dunn feels are well on their way —Parker McCollum and Jake Worthington. Both of their duets, “Road to Abilene” and “Honky Tonk Town,” respectively, are double-timed rockers with healthy amounts of pedal steel and bending telecasters.
“Parker had that Texas thing come out. I was super impressed with his voice,” Dunn says of his decision to put the duets on the album. “Jake is Lefty Frizzell come back to life. He’s a really hardcore authentic country singer.”
100 Proof Neon is yet another solo effort for Dunn to have under his belt. With that material on top of his efforts with Brooks and Dunn, the country icon says anything he puts out now is simply for “the love of music.”
“There was a time when music represented the fine line between making it and not being able to pay the rent for me,” he says. “It’s no longer that. I make music for the love of music.”
He continues, “[In Brooks and Dunn] we’re not chasing anything that is out on the radio. We’re just trying to find songs we’re excited about.”
Photo Credit: Jim Arndt