Song Review: Brooks & Dunn ft. Luke Combs, “Brand New Man”

So…I guess we can expect an Alabama reunion tour any day now?

Starting with their 1991 debut hit “Brand New Man,” Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were the powerhouse duo of the 1990s and 2000s, racking up twenty #1 singles and a whopping seventy awards over their partnership. In 2009, the pair finally split up and went their separate (and less-successful) ways, seemingly closing the book on their incredible run. Ten years later, however, the genre Brooks & Dunn dominated finds itself in an awkward position, swept up in a wave of neotraditional nostalgia and seemingly grasping for anything “country” to put on the airwaves. While older artists that have lingered for a while are generally being shunned (Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, and even Tim McGraw), those that have been on the sidelines for a while are being welcomed back on the radio with open arms. George Strait hit the charts again with a bang this week, and now B&D is looking to do the same with…”Brand New Man” again? I get that their new album is called Reboot and all, but even with Luke Combs’s star power tossed into the mix, this feels like a song that offered nothing beyond the original ’91 smash, and doesn’t really justify its existence.

The production sticks fairly close to the original script, but it’s definitely got a more anthemic feel to it. The vocal lead-ins are longer and more percussion-driven (oh boy, there’s a clap track here too), the guitars have more of a hard-rock edge to them, and the steel guitar is pushed more into the background, all trying to bring the song in line with modern production values. It’s still got the bright, ebullient feel of the original, but I certainly wouldn’t call it an improvement (the guitar solo of the original is vastly superior, for example). In fact, by following so closely in the original’s footsteps, it begs the question why this remake was necessary in the first place. (The answer is “money and notoriety,” of course, but that’s not sufficient from an artistic perspective.) This mix brings nothing to the table that the original recording didn’t, and thus I have no reason to choose hearing this track over going back to the 1991 version if given the chance. In other words, file this sound under “different, but not better,” and cross-list it with “decent, but not necessary.”

Dunn seems to have lost more off of his fastball than George Strait has, but that may be because Dunn had more to lose in the first place: He was a power vocalist with incredible tone back in the day, and his style and delivery were a lot demanding than Strait’s ever was. His weakened voice leaves his unable to finish lines here the way he used to (he just kind of lets them down easy), but he’s still got most of the tone and earnest charisma he was famous for (although he reminds me a lot of Luke Bryan here, which might help explain some of Bryan’s appeal). For Combs’s part, he is his usual charismatic self, matches Dunn note for note, and is just as believable in the narrator’s role, although he has distinctly less vocal chemistry with Brooks than Dunn does. (While Brooks was never terribly prominent in the B&D discography, especially in later years, his harmony work is distinct enough to at least keep him out of the Brian Kelley category.) For all Combs’s talent, however, his inclusion doesn’t really add anything to the song, and feels like a naked attempt at piggybacking on his current star power (which the audience can see right through). Again, nothing here justifies the remake that the song received.

Lyrically, the song is the tale of an exuberant narrator whose wild and crazy days are over now that his eyes have been opened to the joy and power of love. Celebrating the love of another is perhaps the second-most covered topic in country music (only behind lamenting the loss of said love), and there’s nothing within the writing that really makes the track stand out—in fact, the one thing that gave the song a bit of unique flavor back in the day (its allusions to religious imagery) has been watered down over the years until it’s become just another trend for artists to latch on to (see songs like Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.” or Tim McGraw’s “Neon Church”). Looking back, this was a song that was carried by the sheer positive energy of both the duo and the production, and while it served as a great vehicle for Brooks & Dunn’s energy back in the day, there’s nothing in the lyrics to justify a reimagining of the song twenty-eight years later.

The “Brand New Man” of 2019 would not be a bad song in a vacuum, but there’s nothing brand new about this track, and in the wake of its predecessor, there’s just no reason to give it the time of day. The production is too generic and safe, the lyrics don’t stand terribly well on their own, and neither Brooks nor Dun nor even Luke freaking Combs offer a compelling-enough reason to reheat this leftover when the original still holds up so well. If your only argument for tuning in is “Hey, at least we’re not HARDY!”, then maybe you should have tried a new direction instead of retracing your steps.

Rating: 5/10. Give it a spin or two for the novelty, and then go back to the original.

One thought on “Song Review: Brooks & Dunn ft. Luke Combs, “Brand New Man”

  1. Woah. Who’d have thought the first Luke Combs song to score below a 6/10 for you would be a remake of a song that isn’t even his?

    I like it more than you do, but yeah, can’t honestly think of a reason why you wouldn’t just want to listen to the original, haha. On the other hand, I also wouldn’t mind this becoming a hit (again).

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