Brooks and Dunn, “Reboot” (Arista Nashville)
At the start of the 1990s, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn boot-scooted to the top of the country charts, and by the time they split in 2010, they had become country’s top-selling duo ever.
For this reintroduction on disc, the duo have decided to revisit some of those old hits. But they do it in an unusual and canny way — through collaborations not with peers of their own generation but with young country stars and/or rising young talents.
The results reaffirm the sturdiness and charm of Brooks and Dunn’s best material while giving it a fresh jolt. The tracks here are as radio-ready as ever, but producer Dann Huff, never known for subtlety, keeps his tendency toward hackery in check. So rocking numbers such as “Brand New Man” (with Luke Combs) and “Hard Workin’ Man” (Brothers Osborne) have some real bite, and honky-tonkers such as “My Next Broken Heart” (Jon Pardi) and, of course, “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie” (Midland) exude genuine country flavor.
The few ballads, including the spare, moody “Neon Moon” (Kacey Musgraves) and the hymnlike “Believe” (Kane Brown), underscore how Brooks and Dunn are not without soul beneath the sizzle. All in all, a welcome return.
NICK CRISTIANO, Philadelphia Inquirer
Mekons, “Deserted” (Sin/Bloodshot)
Imagine the Mekons on camel back, cursing and shouting in a dust storm as they watch a manic Peter O’Toole in his blue-eyed “Lawrence of Arabia” prime leading yet another thankless charge. It’s a heck of a mirage conjured by the octet on its latest album.
These U.K. contemporaries of the Clash have morphed into a transcontinental art-punk collective of artists, activists, authors, agitators and political mischief-makers who take on everything from country swing to reggae, rock to Eastern drone. They convene every few years to make an album, this time landing outside Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California recording studio of bassist Dave Trumfio.
The music takes its cues from the desert’s otherworldliness and its hardy inhabitants, a metaphor for a band improbably in its fifth decade. The Mekons thread humor and poignancy through songs that crackle, veer, swoop and combust. There are moments where everything feels ready to fall apart — as if the heat, sand and vast emptiness have driven everyone mad. That’s the sound of “Lawrence of California,” as guitars stutter over Steve Goulding’s hammering drums and the vocals turn into a shouting match. Its counterpoint arrives with “In the Desert,” a story of death and destruction buried in weary voices and infinite sand.
These master surrealists are in top form on “Weimar Vending Machine,” in which they channel Berlin cabaret over droning stringed instruments and girl-group sassiness, then slip into the shredding of vestments and the tearing of veils that is “Priest?” Like so many of the best Mekons albums, “Deserted” feels like you’ve been dropped into the middle of an argument just before a brawl breaks out. In the end everyone staggers ’round the campfire and passes around a bottle and makes up a few songs about what just went down.
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
• Bad Religion, “Age of Unreason”
• Vampire Weekend, “Father of the Bride
• Dream Syndicate, “These Times”
• Judah and the Lion, “Pep Talks”
• Joy Williams, “Front Porch”
• Barrie, “Happy to Be Here”
• L7, “Scatter the Rats”
• Tacocat, “This Mess Is a Place”