Arista Records, 1996
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/1997
In the world of country music, only a few names are as common as major rock stars'. One of them is Brooks & Dunn, whose recent hit "My Maria" catapaulted them into superstardom. A song which successfully bridged the gap between rock and country their cover of this song had people who normally hate country music doing double-takes.
Their most recent album Borderline is a fine example of nouveau country, but it also shows the natural limitations of the music.
If you pick up this album expecting all songs to sound like "My Maria," you will be sadly disappointed with the remaining ten tracks. However, try to keep an open mind, and you will be in for an enjoyable experience. Cuts like "A Man This Lonely" and "I Am That Man" show why Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are at the top of their game. The songwriting is excellent, as is the musicianship. The album's closer, "White Line Cassanova," is a freight train chuggin' at you full blast, and when it hits, it feels great.
What makes this group stand out for me are the sparing use of two traditional country "items". First, the vocal hiccup that so many artists feel obliged to use - I happen to hate ir, and was relieved that Brooks & Dunn don't use it often. Second, pedal steel guitars. Sure, they're here, but they seem to often take a backseat to the singing and other instruments. The pedal steel can be a pretty guitar if not used in excess - and I have not heard many pedal steel players who can claim to use moderation.
But while Borderline shows how country music has matured into the popular music form it is today, it slao shows one problem that has been at the heart of country music since the beginnings: reliance on cheatin' songs and stereotypes. Songs like "Mama Don't Get Dressed Up For Nothing" do put a fresher twist on things, but others like "More Than A Margarita" fall back into the broken heart drowned by booze 'n' blooze tracks. As for the stereotypes - if I were to claim that country music was redneck music (which I'm not - so don't send threatening e-mails), I'd be at the top of the list for a public lynching. But Brooks & Dunn can write a song called "Redneck Rhythm & Blues" and it's cool. Guys, got some news for you - it's not just Southerners who listen to country these days.
Borderline also may not appeal to people who long for the old days of country music - e.g., Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline... you get the drift. I guess if I were heavy into country, I could understand people's opposition to the music's evolution. But as music exists, music evolves, and I think the music's progress has led it to increased popularity - which isn't a bad thing.
Brooks & Dunn can glorify in the fact they have crafted a fine album here, but I would challenge them to try to break some of the stereotypes that country music has. If they can do this, than the success of Borderline can only be seen as a beginning.