Freedom: The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved (Oxford Dictionary).
For singer-songwriter Ronnie Dunn the word freedom meant being released from the creative straightjacket of the major label system. Dunn, formerly one half of award-winning, multi-platinum duo Brooks & Dunn, parted ways with Arista Nashville in 2012, after the label failed to give the Oklahoma native’s self-titled solo album a proper push. Despite landing in the #1 spot on the Billboard Country Charts and producing two top 20 hits, the album had a disappointing run.
Dunn jumped back in the saddle with Peace Love And Country Music, which he released on his own Little Will-E Records in 2014. The fourteen track collection was stacked with enough country twang and rock muscle to please old-school and new country fans alike. From the opening rattle of “Grown Damn Man,” a swampy tune equal parts Merle Haggard and the Rolling Stones, to the set-closing title track, Dunn did not disappoint.
Peace, Love And Country Music sounds like a true labor of love. Although all of Dunn’s solo music – along with most of the material he recorded as part of Brooks & Dunn – rings with authenticity, Peace, Love And Country Music is different. Maybe it’s the previously mentioned freedom from the major label machine, or Dunn’s drive to prove he still has a lot left in the tank, but the album is solid from start to finish.
Three of the songs, the beefy “Country This,” the sultry “Kiss You There” and the wistful “Wish I Still Smoked Cigarettes,” were serviced to radio in the months leading up to Peace, Love And Country Music’s release. Despite being three of the best songs Dunn has ever laid down in the studio, radio ignored them. A war of words erupted on social media between Dunn and radio programmers, pretty much assuring the singer zero airplay for any future singles.
Songs like the tonking “Cowgirls Rock N’ Roll,” and the darkly sketched “Thou Shalt Not,” were hits where it counts, with the fans. The latter finds Dunn reeling from religious guilt that comes from early exposure to southern dogma – where everything is a sin and a man is doomed to an eternity of hell-fire for giving in to the desires of the flesh. More Americana than straight-up country (think Steve Earle or Ray Wylie Hubbard), the song is as far outside the box as Dunn has ever stepped.
“If it comes down to shalt nots, I don’t stand a chance/I got the devil on my coat tails, beggin’ me to dance/Gonna play this guitar loud, cry and moan the blues/While they shout from the mountains high what to and not to do,” Dunn chants.
With Peace, Love And Country Music, Dunn gave the middle finger to mainstream gatekeepers and decision makers, and ended up creating the best album of his career.