Track listing: New Mercedes, Sweetheart of the Music Hall, Gone, Gone, Gone, Marlene, Audio Stereo Radio, 6 Black Horses, Geraldine, American, 3 Years On, Adeline, Good Night, Good Luck, GoodbyeSweetheart of the Music Hall screams out of the gate at 100 miles per hour with "New Mercedes," a classic Bryan Dunn power-pop gem. He perfected this songwriting craft years ago, with his consistently witty lyrics, tight arrangements, and hooks that have you singing along both immediately and for days to come. But Sweetheart... is far from a rehash of Dunn's old poppy exploits.
The title track slams on Mercedes' brakes—a bleary eyed ballad that transports you to a piano bar at 2 A.M. after a few too many. Michael Leonhart's trumpet solo evokes the mood perfectly, played brilliantly, stylistically capturing the garbled sounds you actually hear while sloppy drunk. These ebbs and flows of musical moods continue throughout the album.
Sweetheart of the Music Hall (the album) is Dunn's most ambitious project to date. The production is stellar, yet thrives on its organic, human feel. Producer Chris Cubeta kept the album clean without it becoming sterile, and with the extensive instrumentation—18 singers and musicians playing everything from accordion to violin—credit Cubeta for tastefully managing myriads of recorded tracks.
The album genre-jumps, covering many of Dunn's personal musical paths. "New Mercedes" and "Geraldine" give you your Pop/Rock; "Sweetheart of the Music Hall" takes you to the aforementioned piano bar; "Marlene" Latin-infuses its verses (and throws in even more variety with with mandolin, accordion, and a clarinet solo) but outright rocks in its choruses; "6 Black Horses" and "3 Years On" bring a straight-up Americana vibe. And Dunn doesn't abandon his his singer/songwriter roots, with "American."
While the album is exploratory with respect to its broad instrumentation & multiple genres, it also includes some re-recorded versions of tried and true previously released songs. The most notable redux is the long-time fan-fave "Audio/Stereo/Radio" ("Geraldine" and "3 Years On" are the others).
Explaining the decisions to include some of the old in with the new, Dunn shared, "I'd never really had versions of 'Audio,' 'Geraldine,' or '3 Years On' that I completely loved. [Chris Cubeta and I] wanted to make the strongest record we could, and those songs worked. I demoed 30+ tunes, most of them new, but some didn't [make the cut]. Chris [and I] had a lot of fun working together and I wanted him to be invested in the songs we were recording rather than just me saying, 'These are the 10 songs I'm doing.'
Sweetheart of the Music Hall covers many bases. It's fun and beautiful, it rocks and pops, has some sure-fired fan-faves and more songwriter-pleasing songs. And even on a song like "American" that doesn't get me personally charged-up and ready to rock, its percussion and instrumental groove makes it an enjoyable listen. Sweetheart of the Music Hall is well worth the cover charge.
Musicians performing on Sweetheart of the Music Hall: Bryan Dunn, acoustic guitars & vocals; Chris Cubeta, guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals; Jeremy Goldsmith, guitars; Jeff Berner, guitars & vocals; Mark Marshall, slide guitar; Jim McNamara, upright bass; Gary Atturio, electric bass; Drew McKeon, drums; Ryan Vaughn, drums & percussion; JP Schlegelmilch, accordion; Hideaki Aomori, clarinet; Misty Boyce, keyboards & vocals; Michael Leonhart, trumpet; Tarrah Reynolds, violin; Joseph Brent, mandolin & violin; Emily Easterly, vocals; Casey Shea, vocals; Grace Love, vocals