But the veterans, who have been country's reigning duo from the get go, chose to take a different path musically and by looking back through many story songs. Instead of going for their typical high octane rockin' country and ballads, Brooks & Dunn mixed it up with honky tonk, Stones-styled country, blues, gos-pel and more for probably their most eclectic album ever.
And they also will mix it up touring-wise starting in February with a scaled down tour this year.
"I don't think we necessarily went into this with specific goals," says Kix Brooks, the one with the mustache and cowboy hat in an interview from his Nashville studio. "I think what happened was a natural course of events - 13 years down the road, this is like our sixth or seventh album (9th actually). We finally get to the point where (on) the first record, we had way more success. We never dreamed we'd have success out of the box that sold 8 million records or whatever it was. The next two or three records, we tried to recreate ourselves a little bit. We didn't want to lose this miracle we had. We may have been guilty of stepping on our own feet a little bit ."
"After that, it becomes okay. We don't want to lose our fans, but we don't want to write 'Boot Scootin' Boogie' any more. I think where we are getting to a point now where we are comfortable writing what we want to, playing what we want to. I think we're secure that our fans will (not abandon us) if we get off the trail a little bit. It's the (same) refreshing attitude when we made that first CD ."
Referring to the period preceding their 1991 debut, Brooks says, "Ronnie and I didn't know each other very well. We just wrote songs and made music that was true to us, and it really worked. I think now we're a little more confident to stretch back to our roots ."
For Brooks, 48, and Dunn, 50, that means Louisiana and Texas respectively with folks like Waylon and Willie and Jerry Jeff Walker, Leon Russell and the Rolling Stones. The Stones influence is evident practically from the opening strains of "Red Dirt Road's" lead-off song "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl," the second single from the disc. The Keith Richards steely guitar sound on the Bob DiPiero/Bart Allmand song is in ample supply to give the song about a worldly big city girl coming home for a wedding a lively, rocking sound .
"We're finally just getting to the stuff that was a big influence on us," says Brooks, adding, "Songwriting-wise, we dug a little deeper in the well ."
Heck, the reflective first single, "Red Dirt Road," made it to the top of the charts .
That made two albums in a row where the lead-off track was a big hit. Last time around, it was "Only in America," which got grouped in with post-9/11 themed songs .
"9/11 and those things were six, eight months down the road," says Brooks, referring to the themes of the new album. "I think we were by the point of hugging cops on street corners, but we were all appreciating mortality, family, things that matter in life. I think the things we were writing were reflective ."
So with the tragedy of 9/11 more confronted on "Steers & Stripes," "we're at the point of our career and in life to look back on the things that got us there, the things are meaningful to you. Why (now) is a good question. I'm not sure what it is in your career and life. Sometimes going back is the thing that takes you forward ."
Brooks figures that about a week before starting recording, the duo had picked 4 or 5 of the 15 songs for the album. "Then when it gets right there close to game time, that's when we start popping them, just trying to get something on there ."
"Red Dirt Road" came into being about halfway through the recording process. "We had already gotten a few things together," Brooks says. "It was starting to take on a vibe of sort of where we came from - that reflection attitude ."
The duo was about to head off on a west coast concert swing when the song developed. Dunn started the song, writing it on a cocktail napkin, before handing it to Brooks .
"He said, 'see what you can do to this,'" Brooks recalls." With Dunn handing Brooks the chorus, Brooks came up with the verses "between the airport and Sacramento ."
"We had done a Lennon/McCartney on that one," says Brooks .
The song, written by Brooks and Dunn together, is a story song about growing up in a rural area. Dunn sings of the times "we walked to church on Sunday morning/race barefoot back to the Johnson's fence/that's where I first saw Mary/On that roadside pickin' blackberries/that summer I turned a corner in my soul/Down that red dirt road ."