My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Brooks & Dunn – ‘If You See Her’

Brooks & Dunn spent 1997 on tour together with Reba McEntire as co-headliners.  One night Reba would open for Brooks & Dunn and the next night they’d switch.  At the end of that tour, Reba and Ronnie Dunn would perform ‘You Don’t Know Me’ as a duet before being joined onstage by Kix Brooks for a song I think was called ‘Cotton Fields’.  But Reba and Ronnie’s take on the Cindy Walker classic was really the highlight of the evening. Between them, they possess two of the finest voices in modern country music.  But that 1997 tour was supposed to be a one time deal, and besides, Ronnie Dunn already had a duet partner at the time.

In early 1998, both acts were working on new albums.  Reba and Kix Brooks both heard a song called ‘If You See Him’ (or maybe it was called ‘If You See Her’ and Reba intended to change the lyric – that part I don’t know) and put it on hold, unbeknownst to each other.  When they found out what happened, they decided to do the song a duet between the two acts, becoming a sort of trio at the end.  Recording that duet set the wheels in motion for another national tour pairing between the redhead and the pair of cowpokes, plus it set the stage for a really innovative cross-label promotion of the albums that would contain the song, now titled ‘If You See Him, If You See Her’.  I’ve always been impressed with the album-counterpart idea, and given the success both acts had I’m surprised the idea hasn’t been repeated.

I’m not sure a duo had ever taken on another star pairing for a single release in country music’s history, but Brooks & Dunn did just that with the release of the single. Likewise, both albums were released on the same day.  Reba would call hers If You See Him and the duo’s would be billed If You See Her.  They both hit stores June 2, 1998.  The Brooks & Dunn disc would bow at a #4 peak on the Country Albums chart and eventually sell two million copies – on the strength of three chart-topping singles and a fourth top 5.  A fifth single release would fail to crack the top 40 – the first of their career – and so far the only release – to do so.

After the chart-topping title track, the mid-tempo ‘How Long Gone’ was sent to radio. Melodic and melancholy, it continued the style the pair had set for themselves, and sailed to the #1 spot as well.  A cover of Roger Miller’s country and pop hit from 1966, ‘Husbands and Wives’ was the third consecutive #1 from the set.  This tune finds the narrator observing the number of marriages breaking up, and finally concludes, ‘It’s my belief, pride if the chief cause/In the decline of husbands and wives‘.  The mournful waltz seemed tailor made for Dunn’s smooth tenor.

Keeping things slow for the radio releases this time out, ‘I Can’t Get Over You’ would be the fourth single.  This one is a little boring, and with its cliche’ lyric and plodding pace, seems more like album filler.  The star power of Brooks & Dunn still took it to the top 5.  It’s made all the more disappointing because If You See Her had a wealth of great songs that went unheard.  One of these is the fifth single, the only one to feature Kix on lead vocals.  ‘South of Santa Fe’, written by Kix Brooks, Larry Boone, and Paul Nelson recounts the tale of a man on the run, and the passion he found with a senorita.  He falls in love with her, but has to flee on the morning, remembering the experience and her as being ‘somewhere north of Heaven, south of Santa Fe‘.  A lonesome fiddle compliments a clapping rhythm section, giving the track a really cool vibe.  It’s really a shame this one missed the top 40.  I guess it was just too clever for country radio.

A couple other tracks were definitely good enough to go to radio.  ‘Brand New Whiskey’, written by 70s and 80s country hit-maker Gary Stewart with Mary Lou Stewart, is one of my favorites from the album, and with its smooth melody and the idea of creating a new brand of whiskey, this one named after a woman, for a man to hold on to when his woman has left.  You remember the sort of drinking song that didn’t condemn consumption, but celebrated it?  These are so few in the mainstream these days.  Also good is ‘Born and Raised In Black and White’.  The track, sang as a duet as the two trade verses, contrasts the lives of two brothers, reared in the exact same circumstances.  One becomes a religious man, the other is executed by the state for murder, offering a storyteller’s perspective on the nurture verses nature argument toward human behavior.

Beyond those gems, a couple other standouts, or at least interesting moments, can be found.  Kix Brooks’ vocal comes to life and makes you believe the rocking ‘Way Gone’.  He sings the mournful ‘When Love Dies’ with the same conviction, though this lyric is akin to ‘I Can’t Get Over You’, with its recycled theme, and nothing new to say.  Closing the album is the gospel-flavored ‘You’re My Angel’.  The first verse begins with Ronnie Dunn singing the lyric backed by only a piano, about that one person in your life who keeps you going, before the rest of instrumentation, which is nothing short of a full orchestra, joins in.  All this still doesn’t become overbearing, as the mix is kept to a minimum to allow the vocal to take front.  The song itself is nothing memorable, but pleasant.

If You See Her is an above-average collection of songs – one of the duo’s most consistent collections in my opinion.  With their long-time co-producer Don Cook along, Kix and Ronnie ably tackle human nature, religion, love-lost, drinking, cheating, and the myriad of subjects that made me love country music, and add their own distinctive honky-tonk stamp to them.  And while it’s not a start-to-finish album for me, there are only a couple tracks I don’t like, and several I really love, so I find myself hitting skip a lot less on this than most of my albums.

Grade: A-

The album is still widely available, in CD form or digitally from Amazon, and all other retailers.

8 responses to “Album Review: Brooks & Dunn – ‘If You See Her’

  1. Occasional Hope November 18, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Husbands And Wives is one of their best ever recordings.

    I don’t think Brand New Whiskey is really celebratory, though.

  2. Michael November 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Nice review, J.R.. I might have given it a B but it was a fine return to form for them after a couple of lackluster albums. I really liked all of the singles released from this project as well as a few of the album cuts. I’m also surprised that we haven’t seen similar release strategies that Reba and B&D employed for their albums. If you ever find a clip of “You Don’t Know Me”, it would make an awesome Classic Rewind.

  3. Leeann Ward November 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    This isn’t one of my favorites, but “Husbands and Wives” is good. I like “I Can’t Get Over You”, if I remember correctly. I haven’t listened to it in a long time though.

  4. Caroline November 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I would love to hear Ronnie and Reba singing the classic You Don’t Know Me! I know there are many recordings of the song, but I actually don’t think I’ve ever heard it as a duet.

  5. Julie June 18, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I have been trying to find the Cd that has North of Heaven, South of Santa Fe on it. I used to have it, and I’m almost certain that it was not their Greatest Hits CD. Does anyone know the answer to this question. Thanks

    • Michael June 18, 2010 at 11:03 am

      ??? It’s on this album (If You See Her) and I believe it was on The Greatest Hits Collection Volume II.

      • J.R. Journey June 21, 2010 at 10:17 am

        Yes, it was even released as a single from this album, Julie. It’s also available digitally on amazon, iTunes, and everywhere else too.

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