Brooks and Dunn
(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 current 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, andn 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
(Get Better ****)
Thanks in part to an era in which intelligence is a moral necessity, punk — once the Ramones’ glue-sniffing fantasyland — had to smarten up, too, especially about its targets: “Betrayed by the police and the left and the right.” But Philly’s best-ever punk band sacrifices no iota of physical force on a full-length debut that fulfills the enraged promise of Pussy Riot’s “Putin Lights Up the Fires” seven years later. “Betrayed” is merely the most infuriated of 11 dissonant-not-tuneless cyclones that contain not only “Your false authority is dreadful and boring me” on “Type A” and the well-titled “Office Rage,” but also a paean to change that beams “I’m ready for who I’ll become next” over queasy In Utero chords and Ali Carter’s electric-eel bass attack. On Covert Contracts, singer/bassist Carter, drummer Alex Lichtenauer, and guitarist Al Creedon evoke the density vs. dynamics duel of Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, though Control Top left themselves more breathing room because self-care wasn’t yet invented in 2005. They’re already here and they’re just getting started. — Dan Weiss
In the Shape of a Storm
(Mama Bird Recordings ***)
Over the course of two decades and more than a dozen albums, Damien Jurado has amassed an impressive catalog of earnest, carefully written, emotionally complex songs, moving between churning, dark rock and gently layered indie-folk. He’s equally adept at character studies and unflinching self-examination. Unlike last year’s subtly sprawling (and underrated) The Horizon Just Laughed, or his trilogy of albums produced by the late Richard Swift, In the Shape of a Storm is stark and unvarnished.
It’s Jurado’s Nebraska, recorded in the space of two hours with just an acoustic guitar (and a few additions of a second guitarist). You can hear his fingers squeak along the strings and his thoughtful voice gently crack when he reaches into his upper register. Only occasionally do the tracks seem like demos: the songs — often difficult pledges of love or examinations of broken relationships — are poetic and sturdy enough to merit the unadorned approach. — Steve Klinge