If Ronnie Dunn’s voice were a whiskey, we’d all be damn drunks. His smooth vocals have captivated us for more than 25 years with songs like “My Maria,” “Neon Moon” and “Believe”—and those same smooth vocals can be heard again on his third solo studio album, Tattooed Heart.
The album, which dropped on Nov. 11 and is available on iTunes, contains 12 tracks, including the current single, “Damn Drunk,” which features Ronnie’s former Brooks & Dunn partner Kix Brooks. Also joining Ronnie on the album is his good friend and country superstar Reba McEntire, who lends her vocals to “Still Feels Like Mexico.” But it was the addition of Rascals Flatt’s Jay DeMarcus, who produced Tattooed Heart, that helped Ronnie contemporize his sound without skewing off course.
“I worked with Jay Marcus on the production. A good friend. Known him forever,” said Ronnie. “Initially, I went through the list of all the usual suspects for producers, and ended up cutting two or three tracks with Jay—just to get a feel to see what he did—and I was blown away. I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s not the Rascal Flatts perspective. That was the elephant in the room, and he didn’t do that. He honored those songs and what what I ultimately wanted to pull off in a great way.”
One standout track on the album is the title track, “Tattooed Hear.” Ronnie, at the urging of his daughter, recorded the song that was made popular by pop star Ariana Grande. It was a song that found Ronnie hiding away for the recording, not wanting anyone to know that he was going to attempt the cover. But it wasn’t out of embarrassment, it was something else.
“I was intimidated by her singing,” Ronnie explains. “They’re going to A/B these songs and these performances, so I went in with a couple of buddies—Duke Adam, Charlie Judge and my engineer Mike Kyle—and we just hid out. Camped out at the barn, which is the studio, and recorded it. We just kept adding stuff and adding stuff, we’d throw parts in, take parts off, and finally built it where it turned into the title cut.
“My daughter is always bringing stuff and making me listen to things that she’s into, or I’ll grab her and say, ‘Hey, play me what you’re listening to.’ I just went down the 12 tracks and went, ‘Oh, “Tattooed Heart.” I like the tattooed thing, it sounds like it might be a little edgy.’ It was a title that I would write as a writer. I listened to it and the song really appealed to me. It kind of has that throwback, almost to me like a Sam Cook era.”
While Tattooed Heart is exactly what the doctor ordered, that’s not all that Ronnie has on his plate. The former Brooks & Dunn frontman has rejoined his partner in crime, Kix Brooks, and good friend, Reba McEntire, for a residency run at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas—Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas. The trio kicked off the show in the summer of 2015 and have been having so much fun that they extended the show through 2017 and possibly longer. But that residency didn’t begin with an arduous drawn-out plan to get the three superstars together. No, it was simple phone call and a still moment made it all come together.
“It happened because of a cold call from the people at Caesars and AEG and our agents at William Morris. I can remember specifically sitting in Mexico, at Reba’s place—with her husband at the time, Narvel—staring out at the beach and going, ‘You know what? I don’t care if I ever walk up to a microphone again. I’m good. I’m going to go play with a camera or something.’
“Narvel gave me one of the coolest pieces of advice I’ve ever been given. He said, ‘Why don’t you just sit still for a minute?’ Because I came out of Brooks & Dunn and I scrambled to get us all a record and then I went and did my own thing on my own. I was going to take on the world and all this stuff and he was like, ‘Why don’t you just stop for a minute? Sit still, and see what happens.’”
We couldn’t be happier that you did, Ronnie.
Ronnie Dunn image courtesy Nash Icon Records