Brooks & Dunn ought to kiss Montgomery Gentry’s hillbilly shoes. Losing their perennial CMA award to the Kentucky upstarts in 2000 made the boot-scootin’ twins wake up from the torpor of 1999’s ”Tight Rope.” The best-selling duo in country music’s history did some soul searching and came up with three No. 1 hits for 2001’s ”Steers & Stripes.” But for Red Dirt Road, they dug even deeper, using autobiography, the musical influences of their teens, and energized roots-rock production.
Mimicking Rolling Stones riffs in the intro for ”You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl,” Brooks & Dunn move on to detail personal stories of rootless childhoods in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Kenny Greenberg’s scorching electric guitar recalls the 1970s Tulsa scene during which the rooster-haired Dunn was a holy-rolling music minister and played with the Leon Russell crowd (”I Used to Know This Song by Heart”), while Brooks, who struggles to work some color into his wan baritone, conjures the rocking country that shaped his Shreveport, La., memories of the draft and Vietnam (”When We Were Kings”).
The CD hits a high point with the churning, turboed bluegrass of ”Caroline.” But it’s all just a warm-up for the title track, in which the pair’s recollections of rites of passage (”It’s where I drank my first beer/It’s where I found Jesus”) form a gutsy account of the terrible beauty of coming of age.