After releasing five albums in the 1990s, Bryan White took a break from music to be with his family. In that time the singer became a much stronger songwriter and the proof of his growth is present on this album, the first release from Bryan since his Greatest Hits album from the year 2000. Dustbowl Dreams features a more thoughtful artist than when we last heard from him and this is evident on the album's lead single “The Little Things,” a song that finds Bryan ruminating on all the simple pleasures that get him through the day, singing: “It’s the little things that mean the world to me.” Melodically the song is firmly contemporary but the mandolin and fiddle are clearly in the mix as is the steel guitar. These production flourishes remind folks that Bryan White has been and always will be a country artist; in fact he may be more ‘traditional’ than quite a few artists who are making music these days.
“Get It Together” recalls the tempo-filled hits of songs like “So Much For Pretending” yet somehow this Derek George & Darryl Burgess-penned track feels extremely joyful and just plain fun. “When You Come Around” is a painful song to listen to and this song, perhaps more than any other track on Dustbowl Dreams showcases Bryan White’s songwriting more than anything. The song, with gentile piano, fiddle and mandolin notes guiding the melody, finds Bryan bearing his soul about the relationship he wishes he had with his alcoholic father. The pain in the lyric is evident while Bryan retains the same hopeful outlook that all children have for their parents. This is country music folks, bearing your soul for the entire world to hear in the hopes that this ‘cheap therapy’ can help heal a wound or two. It also shows that ‘stars’ aren’t immune to the same thoughts and feelings as the ‘every day person’ is.
The title track of the record is a sweet reminder of the power of home and where we grow up and how it has affects our life, even when we don’t know it. The song touches on Bryan’s fast success as a recording artist while also showcasing the strength that he gets from his home state and family. Bryan admired Steve Wariner for a long time and while they became fast friends in the 1990s, they haven’t recorded together before now, on the track “Hands of Time,” a song Steve first recorded a decade ago. The song not only is a duet but it also features Wariner on lead guitar. The song is a fun track that would sound great on the radio, if given the chance. “Beautiful Place” feels like something you might hear on a Kenny Chesney record with the conga drums and the general summery melody but the lyrics find Bryan singing about how he doesn’t need those islands and to ‘escape’ as the woman in his life is that for him.
While Bryan’s commercial (mainstream) career with Asylum/Warner Brothers Records was ending in 2000, his personal life was getting stronger and better. That personal life centered around his wife Erika Page, an actress. Their relationship has continued to grow has given the artist the confidence to return with this album. Bryan serenades his wife on “Erika’s Song.” The album ends with a co-write with one of my personal favorite songwriters, Marcus Hummon. The song is “On My Own (Hymn of the Road)” and it tells the story of a musician who leaves home to find stardom only to realize that you can go home again (before setting off again). It’s a fitting end for Dustbowl Dreams and a wonderful reminder that even after all these years, Bryan White has come back to country music and sounds recharged, refreshed and, if this record is any indication, ready to bring more great music to fans for years to come.
Bryan White co-wrote 8 of the 10 tracks on this album.