Album Review – Ronnie Dunn’s “100 Proof Neon”
Everybody wants to be 90s country these days, but nobody wants to live through an era without the wide proliferation of the internet, and when cell phones looked like carry-on luggage. Even Kelsea Ballerini is out there trying to convince us that her next project will be 90s country-influenced. But if you want the real stuff, you’re always best going directly to the source, and perhaps no country music act personified 90s country more than Brooks & Dunn, and their monster hits like “My Maria,” “Brand New Man,” and “Neon Moon.”
Ronnie Dunn has taken a bit of a winding road to get back to his 90s roots. After the initial semi-retirement of Brooks & Dunn in 2009 (they semi-reunited in 2012, and still occasional play shows), Dunn was definitely the more ambitious of the two compared to Kix Brooks. Dunn launched a solo career and continued to release albums and singles, but he struggled to find the same level of reception that Brooks & Dunn did during their heyday. This was a rather predictable outcome, but unsatisfied, Dunn kept pushing.
Ronnie Dunn’s 2011 self-titled solo album is actually pretty underrated and pretty damn country, with “Cost of Livin’” and “Bleed Red” being some of Dunn’s best songs of his career, with Brooks & Dunn or otherwise. But Ronnie didn’t seem ready to give up his relevance on radio, and got caught chasing trends a little bit, which led him away from his roots. His 2016 album Tattooed Heart was definitely a mixed bag of more contemporary sounds as Ronnie tried to pull all kinds of stunts to get radio’s attention, and yet still not succeeding.
Now it’s not about Ronnie Dunn reaching out of his comfort zone to chase the current trends, it’s the current trends coming back around to embrace Ronnie Dunn, which means all he has to do is be himself and lean into the sound that got him here. That’s what you get a big snootful on 100 Proof Neon. If you like songs about country, heartbreak, booze and neon, that’s what this album is all about. In fact, here are some stats at you:
* All of the first five songs mention both neon and whiskey.
* Nine of the eleven songs mention at least neon or whiskey.
* Eight of the eleven songs mention neon, including two in the title.
* Seven of the eleven songs mention whiskey, with one in the title.
* Only two of the songs don’t mention whiskey or neon.
And the music is of course very indicative of classic Brooks & Dunn, meaning strong appearances by steel guitar and fiddle, but a slight favoring toward electric Telecaster sounds, giving it that taste of rock that 90s country was known for. If anything, both the lyricism and the instrumentation are a little too consistent on the album. Sometimes one song ends and another starts, and you can’t tell if it’s just the last song repeating. Similar to Justin Moore’s recent records, there’s no doubt these songs are country, but the sound and themes get a little too consistent by the end. Drinking songs that mention whiskey are sort of the safe way for more mainstream artists to get traditional.
But there are a couple of songs where Ronnie Dunn shakes it up a bit, and with positive results. Some may want to razz Ronnie for picking Ashley Monroe’s pocket by recording “The Blade,” which was the title track to her 2015 release. But reading the back story, Ronnie was first to want to cut the song, and then when he heard Ashley wanted it too and intended to make it a title track, he decided to be a gentlemen and say “ladies first.” Monroe may still have the definitive version of this superbly-written song, but Ronnie’s version is stellar too. “The Blade” wasn’t written by Ashley Monroe anyway. It’s by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd, and Allen Shamblin. It was the only song from Ashley’s The Blade she didn’t co-write.
Another standout moment on 100 Proof Neon is “Road To Abilene” featuring Parker McCollum, which hits personally for Ronnie Dunn who got his start in music in the Texas town, playing bass and singing in clubs while in college until he was told him to pick college or clubs, and he picked clubs and moved to Tulsa. The songs gives you another good moment beyond all the drinking songs.
Dunn also collaborates with Jake Worthington on the song “Honky Tonk Town,” and has embraced his role as an elder statesman in country music, making sure some of the better names from the new crop of performers get some attention. Ronnie also records the song “Where The Neon Lies” co-written and originally recorded by Triston Marez, who doesn’t appear here, but Dunn did appear on Triston’s self-titled 2021 album on the track.
100 Proof Neon is always good, certainly country, but never super great, while the consistency of the material makes a few passes through the album ample. But it’s most certainly cool to see Ronnie Dunn get back to what he does best, which is being Ronnie Dunn. His core fans will be more happy, and so will he. And it’s also cool to see country music continue to return to more country influences. The 90s era might not be favorable to everyone, but it’s most certainly more favorable than whatever era we’re living through now.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.3/10)
– – – – – – – –
Purchase 100 Proof Neon
July 31, 2022 @ 8:49 am
Your last sentence sums up my thoughts perfectly. If I never hear Boot Scootin’ Boogie ever again, that would be ideal.
July 31, 2022 @ 9:07 am
Pretty decent couple of songs there.
July 31, 2022 @ 9:17 am
Those are some pretty good songs, if the whole album is like this, then I will get it.
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
July 31, 2022 @ 9:20 am
Trig – any chance we get a new review for Luke Combs album? Considering it will likely be the biggest release in terms of sales and award show wins
July 31, 2022 @ 9:25 am
Zach Bryan is already topping it in the charts even though Luke’s was released a month after. It’s definitely on the radar and being considered for review.
August 4, 2022 @ 2:58 pm
Luke Combs = FAT GARBAGE
August 6, 2022 @ 2:02 pm
Tell that to all the people at county fairs who know the words to every one of his songs.
July 31, 2022 @ 9:23 am
I hope the new Whiskey Myers’ album is on your radar. Just heard it through the first time today and really liked it. Would love to see a review on here.
July 31, 2022 @ 9:26 am
Yes, Whiskey Myers and many others are on the review docket.
The Ghost Of Outlaw Country's Past
August 1, 2022 @ 10:03 am
Very curious as to why you never review anything from Creed Fisher or James Carothers? Are they too hoky for you…. too Hank Jr for you ?… no hate just curious as to why…. James Carothers latest is a fantastic album by the way
August 1, 2022 @ 10:51 am
Folks, you have to understand just how many artists there truly are in country music, how many albums get released every week, and what a CRUSH of submissions I receive, esp. as one of the very few folks who reviews albums from unsigned, or unrepresented artists. It’s a part time job just keep all the titles and release dates in order on the calendar, let alone listening to albums, and writing reviews that are meaningful and engaging to read. Though it may look otherwise, I spend 80% of my time taking in submissions, listening to music, and writing album reviews. It is far an away the primary focus of this website. But I can’t review everything, and just because I don’t review something doesn’t mean I don’t like the album or artist. It mostly has to do with if I have something to say about it. I write as many reviews a humanly possible.
Specific to James Carothers and Creed Fisher, I have featured James on the site numerous times, and for years Creed just released albums without any notice, so I was always behind with him. His new album is on my radar, and I may review it in the future.
The Ghost Of Outlaw Country's Past
August 1, 2022 @ 11:38 am
Thanks for the reply I guess I wrongly assumed you didn’t like either of them based on the list style songs both tend to put out.
I like both guys myself but I think James is the better songwriter but both do put out great music. Anyway thanks for your time.
August 7, 2022 @ 3:05 pm
In fact you do something with quality, research and of course there’s an opinion involved. We as fans need to understand that doing all this for “free”, in name of Country Music, is something that really requires effort and passion.
Congratulations for bring news, reviews and always give space for any artists, with label, unsigned or even Festivals.
This is something that I really admire. I discovered so many Independent artists here just reading reviews.
Probably artists I would never discover if it wasn’t for the work on this page.
August 1, 2022 @ 6:16 am
New Whiskey Myers is fantastic. Unfortunately its also their least country sounding album to date. Pure Southern Rock goodness though.
July 31, 2022 @ 9:40 am
As you rightly stated, Brooks and/or Brooks and Dunn have always done stuff that sounded the same. I call it the Huey Lewis syndrome. I like his/their stuff in really small doses.
Keepin it Country
July 31, 2022 @ 6:44 pm
That’s probably one reason their best album is often considered to be their 2003 album because of the different sound that it had to it.
July 31, 2022 @ 10:47 am
Know you are SUPER Busy, but is Raelyn Nelson on your radar, for a bit of a review?
i like her voice
July 31, 2022 @ 12:42 pm
I’ve featured Raelyn before and I’m sure I will in the future. I believe she’s just releasing singles right now which can be hard to feature individually. Hopefully she compiles them into an album eventually.
July 31, 2022 @ 10:52 am
Quick glance and I saw Wheeler Walker Jr
July 31, 2022 @ 11:08 am
Ronnie Dunn’s solo albums have been good and deserved much greater success than they have had. Great voice. This looks like another good one.
David: The Duke of Everything
July 31, 2022 @ 11:21 am
I never have been a big fan of brooks n dunn music. I mean some songs are good but just overall I was never into them much. These two songs sound like more of the same but they are ok. Glad to See he isn’t chasing trends though.
July 31, 2022 @ 11:38 am
My goodness, “Road to Abilene” sounds like my sophomore year of high school – in a good way.
July 31, 2022 @ 11:57 am
Quick question. Why did he change the wording of Jon Wolfe’s “Better Bartender” to Good Bartender? Both versions are really good, just curious why they did that.
July 31, 2022 @ 12:41 pm
Good question. I didn’t pick up that Wolfe had recorded that song before, different title notwithstanding. It was written by Bob DiPiero, Josh Thompson, and Lee Miller, who are all pro songwriter guys in Nashville. It might have been Jon who changed the title originally, I really don’t know.
August 2, 2022 @ 6:57 am
Juan Lobo is the man!
July 31, 2022 @ 3:14 pm
This album was a pretty good listen from beginning to end.
July 31, 2022 @ 5:06 pm
When I think of the “good ole days” of the 90s, I think of the ladies – Patty, Pam, Lorrie, Wynonna, Carlene, Trisha (and a personal favorite, Bobbie Cryner). Other than Dwight and I guess Alan Jackson, the “hat acts”…I dunno, maybe I’m missing something. Feel free to educate me, maybe I have a blind spot (I got into country music in the late 90s).
Stephen J Jesus
August 1, 2022 @ 3:53 am
Thanks for reminding me of Bobby Cryner. She was terrific
August 1, 2022 @ 2:30 pm
Anytime! I probably wrote my original post on some level just to mention her haha.
August 1, 2022 @ 9:37 am
Three non-“hat” guys from the early 90s worth checking out include Vince Gill, Randy Travis and Marty Stuart.
August 1, 2022 @ 2:25 pm
Thanks, in my sloppy argument (I’m a law school dropout after all) I didn’t include guys like those three. But I definitely appreciate the talents of Vince and Randy (I only really know one Marty song, Tempted, which I like). And I also like the few Brooks and Dunn songs I know, and George Strait too. I really should know more songs by them, ditto for people like Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence, Clint Black…
August 2, 2022 @ 1:54 am
As well as Mark Chesnutt and David Ball.
August 2, 2022 @ 5:40 am
David Ball’s When the Thought of You is high on my list of favorite 90s songs.
August 3, 2022 @ 4:09 pm
David Ball is definitely worth digging into more. Love his song “Don’t You Think I Feel It Too” (not sure if he ever recorded it, but he wrote it and sings it live “on YouTube”).
August 19, 2022 @ 2:46 pm
Clay Walker is fantastic, and so is Tracy Lawrence. It may be considered cheating a bit because the song came out in 2001, but I HIGHLY recommend Clay Walker’s “If You Ever Feel Like Loving Me Again”. Now that’s a COUNTRY song.
July 31, 2022 @ 7:48 pm
Well, i guess Blackberry Smoke just – Tore. It. Up.
They were Blackberry Jammin’ until about 15 minutes ago.
Vibrating windows all over town.
and me, the idiot, who didn’t buy a ticket & go
August 1, 2022 @ 4:12 am
Brown County Music Center is a great venue. Every act that comes through there brags about it. This should definitely be one that is considered for Venue of the Year, in spite of it not being strictly a country music venue. It may not be, but the Little Nashville Opry sure was, and maybe one can sense a little bit of the legacy rising from its ashes. Which is a good thing, because the building the BCMC squashed any hope of rebuilding the Opry, for better or worse.
August 1, 2022 @ 4:17 am
Love the acoustics at BCMC.
August 1, 2022 @ 7:10 am
Did you attend the Mrty Stuart concert there recently?
August 1, 2022 @ 9:31 am
No, but certainly wanted to. I mean, how many times is Marty going to be that close?
Saw Jamey Johnson/Randy Houser in April, at BCMC.
Was thinking about going to see Gladys Knight, Saturday evening.
Didn’t see the Blackberry Smoke show listed on the little marquee/sign, by the road. In retrospect, wondered if Knight’s promoters wouldn’t allow other acts featured on the marquee, the same time as hers. (Not blaming Gladys)
Consequently, totally forgot about it. My fault.
Marty was here on 23 June. (The day after had the tumor removed from the back of my head) The only thing i was in the mood for on 23 June, was smacking the living **** out of some grizzly. (Opted to have tumor removed in the surgeon’s office instead of the O.R.) i will never learn …
So, missed another good show.
: D HOWEVER, waiting to bust the legs off my piggy bank to get at gas money to go see Mr. Conrad Fisher & company, & Mr. Dickey Lee, at the benefit concert Conrad is throwing, in Pennsylvania.
Peter Bartholomew l
August 1, 2022 @ 10:24 am
Would like purchase a CD version but can not get in uk
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 1, 2022 @ 10:37 am
Are you going to review John Rich’s new song?
August 1, 2022 @ 10:56 am
I’m not going to have the opportunity to review anything if I have to spend all day answering questions on whether I’m going to review things or not.
It’s being considered.
King Honky Of Crackershire
August 1, 2022 @ 11:32 am
I get it. I just figured since me and you was old buddies, that you’d do it just because I asked.
August 1, 2022 @ 4:01 pm
Kinda funny how half the comments here dont even mention Ronnie Dunn. Ronnie is the man, outstanding voice, one of the true greats of the genre. Huge Brooks and Dunn fan here. Certainly the most successful duo in Country music history. He still sounds good. This is gonna be a very decent record. Ive said it before, but bears repeating, not everybody is a Kristofferson level songwriter, and thats fine. We need Honky-Tonkers like Ronnie making great two-step songs.
August 1, 2022 @ 12:11 pm
Ronnie should patent a line of moonshine and name it 💯 proof NEON ‼️❣️😉❤️🔥
August 1, 2022 @ 3:24 pm
After listening to these two tracks, I was going to say “this sounds like 14% industrial Cabernet from Paso Robles.” But I decided not to because I like Ronnie Dunn and hope his album’s a big success. He’s kind of the Carl Smith of the 90’s.
August 2, 2022 @ 7:24 am
Decent album. Ronnie has the best voice ever, in my view. He could sing the phone book and make it sound good.
August 2, 2022 @ 11:59 pm
I definitely like the two songs posted here. I’m more of a Brooks fan than a Dunn fan but I feel his solo debut post -B&D was a flop and was sad I paid money for it. Shame Triston Marez wasn’t included on this album, love that song.
August 3, 2022 @ 8:11 am
Welcome back,Ronnie !!!!!!!1
August 5, 2022 @ 6:16 am
Respectfully, this is 2000s country. The songs are casual, the production is glossy/clean
With 90s country, even the casual songs are very deep and stimulate an emotional connection. The production has a more natural sound.
Someone more knowledgeable in production equipment could likely identify the specific change. Obviously from 1995 to 2005 was a huge time of change in technology. In my amateur verbiage I’d call it a switch from analog to digital. Whatever it is, even if the best songs of the 90s were recorded today, with same players and style and mixing yet with whatever equipment they’re using today – I’d guess it would still feel like something was missing.
The squeaky clean digital robotic sound is great for pop music. But country and rock need a natural, earthy, tone.
Someone needs to blow the dust off the tape recorder.
August 6, 2022 @ 2:08 pm
A good reference point is probably 1999, when Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was the first number one single to be recorded and mixed entirely in ProTools, a digital audio software application.
August 6, 2022 @ 9:04 pm
Just the answer I was looking for! Thank you so much.
I’d love to see an artist record the same song twice, one using the ‘modern’ equipment and the other using conventional equipment.
Also, just a fun thought, imagine giving the raw tracks to two different production crews and being able to hear two different takes of the same underlying music.