The creative juices have been flowing for Ronnie Dunn as he was gearing up to release his latest solo project, 100 Proof Neon, on Friday (July 29).
The new album features many of the ’90s dancehall vibes fans have come to expect from Dunn. The decade seems to be inspiring many country artists these days in what is now being considered a ’90s resurgence. This trend is a major win for the Brooks & Dunn member, who says he’s right back in his musical lane.
“I feel lucky that it’s swinging back around to that and it’s right back in my wheelhouse — it also motivates me to keep creating, so I’m digging that,” Dunn tells Billboard. “We went through a phase in country music where it was pretty much boxed into one sound. Now, it’s opening up in a big way.”
That motivation has already sparked another album that Dunn says is “a cowboy record. Not campfire songs, but cowboys, rodeos, all that stuff.” He has already recorded 15 songs for it, but Dunn remains open to seeing where the project ends up, including making it a collaborative effort.
“There are some outside songs, too, bringing back a couple of classics to make it unpredictable,” he explains. “But I’ve got a couple of buddies, Phil O’Donnell and Ira Dean, and we’ve become kind of the cowboy trio when it comes to writing this stuff.”
’90s country was heavily inspired by modern day cowboys and classic honkytonks. It’s the music that makes you want to dance. This feeling is a part of Dunn’s DNA, as much of his early years were spent performing in dance halls dotted around Texas and Oklahoma.
“The dance floor dictated your success in those places. The club owners would say, ‘You get ’em to dancing, and they’ll drink more,'” Dunn reveals. “They didn’t care if it was the best band or not — they looked at the tab at the end of the night, and that’s the band they hired back.”
Dunn has a way of painting the perfect barroom picture. In the project’s first single, “Broken Neon Hearts,” you can almost hear the beer bottles hitting the bar and the shuffle of boots moving across a sawdust dance floor.
Like “Broken Neon Heats” that honkytonk theme is apparent in more titles, including “Honky Tonk Town” and “Two Steppers, Waltzes and Shuffles.” Dunn wrote seven of the 11 tracks on the album, including one that is a nod to his early days playing in Abilene, Texas. “The Road to Abilene” features fellow Texas native Parker McCollum.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed, there have been discussions of taking 100 Neon Proof on the road. Dunn says it would be a small run in a few clubs and theaters.
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