James Dunn's The Bed We Made | Record Review | Indy Week
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James Dunn's The Bed We Made 

(self-released)

With this third release, James Dunn—a singer/ songwriter/ guitarist who for the last two years has carried dual citizenship with addresses in both Nashville and Raleigh—finds himself between rock and a chart place. On one hand, he seems poised to make a run at the commercial country charts. The album-opening title track (which is reprised in a more atmospheric form as the closer) is the kind of relationship drama marked by pivotal double-meaning wordplay in the chorus that's always done well in that arena. The key lines on "Circle on My Map"—"The tank is full and the tires are new/ And the circle on my map is you"—are the stuff of a sing-along road song. And not to be crass, but there's a soldier song ("They Gave"), which is catnip for the commercial country crowd. The music on those cuts and elsewhere, despite the presence of steel guitar and Dobro, isn't exactly country, which is another prerequisite for the commercial country charts. Even Dunn's name and his V-neck-shirt good looks on the cover feel right.

But Dunn is hatless on that cover, perhaps a sign that he takes his Petty and Springsteen influences a little too much to heart for the CMA and CMT camps. The Bed We Made sounds great, but it doesn't have the so-shiny-you-can-see-your-reflection production that characterizes so much of the country charts. I mean, where's the triple-tracked fiddle on the power ballad-y "Nothing Left to Say"? One person's polished is another person's raw.

So where does that leave Dunn and accomplished, rib-sticking songs like the big, ringing "Circle on My Map" and, especially, "Roots," which sports an "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" guitar hook and the down-home snap of a Chris Knight song? Well, he's the perfect poster citizen for the rootsy region of adult album alternative (aka Triple-A), alongside your Marc Cohns, John Hiatts and Bruce Hornsbys.

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