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Brooks & Dunn

Tight Rope – 1999 (Arista)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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Kickstart Country Standard Time to Nashville

CDs by Brooks & Dunn

With "play it safe" the guiding principle in mainstream country music these days, you'd think that the reigning CMA Vocal Duo of the Year would do just that on their new release, and in many ways you'd be right. Still, there are some twists that suggest Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks aren't set in their ways.

After turning mostly to outside writers for material on their last album, Brooks & Dunn sharpened their pens - but not to write with each other. The team of Dunn and Terry McBride (of McBride & The Ride fame) account for five songs here, while Brooks co-wrote three with Bob DiPiero and others. The separate writing is underlined by separate production; Dunn's numbers bring in the red-hot Byron Gallimore as co-producer with the duo, while Brooks's utilize Don Cook.

Still, the biggest observable difference is between the two singers' vocal leads; Dunn's voice has more of an edge to it. Beyond that, there's a substantial consistency to the album, exemplified by the first single, a remake of John Waite's early '80's pop-rock hit, "Missing You."

Brooks & Dunn seem to have settled into a hard-edged, country-rock groove that, when applied to winning material like "Goin' Under Gettin' Over You" or "Too Far This Time," is surprisingly satisfying, at least in small, radio-sized doses. There are a few other sounds sprinkled through the album - a tinge of rhythm and blues in the wispy "Hurt Train," and a couple of ballads like Brooks' "I Love You More" - but for better or for worse, no real surprises.