It’s been a little while since Kix Brooks was the new guy in town. Before serving as one-half of country music’s most successful duo ever, Kix arrived in Nashville as a young singer/songwriter and released a self-titled debut in 1989. However, he soon partnered up with Ronnie Dunn and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, 23 years and a lifetime later, Kix is releasing his sophomore solo album on September 11.
New To This Town doesn’t spend much time reminiscing about his former band. Co-writing nine of the album’s 12 songs and handling producer duties, Kix uses this project to reinvent himself as he steps directly into the spotlight. Nostalgia for the past begins and ends with the album opener and title-track, “New To This Town.” Though the essence of the song wishes for a fresh start with troubled love, it’s hard not to think of it in the context of starting a new chapter in his musical life. With an assist from The Eagles’ Joe Walsh on guitar, Kix sings, I wish I was new to this town, and just pullin’ in, and checkin’ it out for the first time. After this intro, however, the album is all about establishing Kix as a solo artist in his own right.
The overall sound of the record diverges a bit from Brooks Dunn’s contemporary honky tonk. Tracks here are produced with an earthier, open sound that at times has the windswept feel of Texas Red Dirt or carries the unorthodox arrangements of Alt-Country. The rootsy “Moonshine Road,” recalling shades of Steve Earle, builds off of swampy resonator guitar and a percussive chorus while Kix unveils a patient melody with expert phrasing. On the loose, rollicking “Next To That Woman,” Kix is as wild as the woman he sings about, noting that even the boys down at Bristol Speedway are “standin’ still next to that woman.” Hello Bonnie, you can call me Clyde, he sings with an engaging drawl while Skynyrd-esque guitar fills play out. As with many of the songs on the record, first-person storytelling continually reinforces that these songs are directly from the man singing them.
Most of New To This Town runs in high gear while showcasing an independent spirit. “Let’s Do This Thing” calls on distorted, chuggin’ guitars to support a rebellious couples’ restlessness when faced with a conventional wedding. On the bluesy, country/rock “Complete 360,” changes that were once made for a woman are totally reversed until Kix is back where he started. It’s a wild night out, especially when, there’s a drink in one hand and a phone in the other / and all [his] old girlfriends are running for cover. And on the sexy “Tattoo,” distinctive riffing punctuates Kix’s youthful and refreshed vocal while he celebrates a little ink, even admitting he thinks it will still look great when she’s 92.
Some of the album’s best moments come when Kix does slow it down a bit. “There’s The Sun” plays with an ultra-smooth groove while thick bass and electric piano set the pace. Kix shows a mastery of laid-back melodies while he navigates them like a relaxing float down a lazy river. On the midtempo, toe-tappin’ “Closin’ Time At Home,” Kix gives date nights at home their due, singing, One thing’s for sure we ain’t leavin’ alone, as the band plays deep in the pocket.
Kix showcases a willingness and daring on his first project since Brooks Dunn hung up the buckle. Songs like the swampy “My Baby” recall his Louisiana roots while others, like new single “Bring It On Home,” give more than enough evidence Kix can work a tender melody. On New To This Town, Kix reinvents himself successfully as a solo artist while delivering on the charm and charisma fans have come to know well.
Key Tracks – “Closin’ Time At Home,” “Complete 360,” “There’s The Sun,” “Moonshine Road”