The idea isn’t terrible: Having balanced unprecedented commercial status with critical and industry respect, Brooks & Dunn wanted to take an opportunity to reflect on their career, which was just canonized with their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The timing may be apt, but the resulting album, Reboot, is a full-on disaster. The duo enlisted current A-listers and up-and-coming artists to join them in re-recording some of their most enduring singles, and while the song selections themselves are all obvious choices for an ostensible greatest hits collection, those songs are only intermittently matched with a Nextgen act whose style, or whose POV, makes for an effective collaboration. The worst offenders are, unsurprisingly, two of country radio’s most popular men. Brett Young mewls and yelps like a wounded woodland creature on his own material, and he’s a sad little raccoon who gets completely run-over by the arrangement on “Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You,” which boasts one of Ronnie Dunn’s most forceful vocal performances. Dunn’s most show-offy vocal turn has always been on the duo’s cover of “My Maria,” and Thomas Rhett is woefully overmatched by that song’s ambitious melody and range, and the song simply doesn’t fit his whatever-Bruno-Mars-was-doing-five-years-ago aesthetic.
But the misfires aren’t limited to the genre’s lesser talents. Kacey Musgraves is in fine voice on her rendition of “Neon Moon,” but the decision to transform that song from a pure honky-tonk weeper into a midtempo country disco track — similar to, but far less successful than, a genre hybrid like “High Horse” from Golden Hour — fights against the song’s tone. Luke Combs fully holds his own with Dunn on “Brand New Man,” but that track is indicative of the album’s other greatest liability: It sounds wretched. Nashville long ago lost the Loudness War, but the engineering on Reboot is an all-in-the-red nightmare in which not a single instrument rings true to its full, natural tone. Brooks & Dunn’s catalogue stands among the best-produced and best-sounding of its era, and to hear their singles engineered in such a way that it sounds like they were performed by a local bar band who can play most of the right notes but who never learned how to set their gear up anywhere beyond the garage where they practice is indefensible. Even when Brooks & Dunn’s collaborators are on-point — other than Combs, Ashley McBryde, Midland, and Brothers Osborne are the set’s standouts — Reboot fails everyone involved.
Published as part of Rooted & Restless | Issue 3