Since alt-country rose to prominence about a decade ago, conventional wisdom has dictated that the real soul of country music rests with undergraduates in work shirts singing turgid, twangy songs about murder and unemployment, and not with the slicked-up pop-country that dominates the commercial airwaves. That's an easy belief to embrace, especially when confronted with a hit-making machine like Brooks & Dunn, with its colorful clothes and crowd-pleasing fusion of '70s AM Top 40 and dance-floor-driven honky-tonk. (The duo's biggest hits are emblematic: the minimally catchy "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and a cover of B.W. Stevenson's 1973 smash "My Maria.") But just as Hollywood blockbuster-movie formulas make their own meaning, mass-produced mainstream country can create a sense of communal uplift beyond the means of a lone singer-songwriter. Brooks & Dunn's new Red Dirt Road is sort of the Seabiscuit of country records–a cornball bit of entertainment that works because it carries great truths. One of those truths is Ronnie Dunn's voice. On the midtempo ballads "Caroline" and "That's What She Gets For Loving Me," his effortless runs into higher registers show the soulful craftsmanship of classic cowboy crooners like Webb Pierce. He invests every lyric with life and character, and this material gives Dunn and his springy-voiced foil Kix Brooks plenty to work with. Celebrating the joys of rural life, Brooks and Dunn trot out Springsteen-esque small-town tableaux on "When We Were Kings," "Good Day To Be Me," and the title track, all of which deal with death and disappointment while acknowledging that life is fundamentally good. Unlike Springsteen, the duo hits the choruses too hard in conventional Nashville fashion, and on "I Used To Know This Song By Heart," they practically kill wispy blues melodies with gospel-drenched bombast. But the evidence against corporate country is thin on Red Dirt Road, especially when weighed against swinging affirmations like "My Baby's Everything I Love," which builds from classic walking bass and bedrock fiddle to an all-out barrelhouse romp, with piano and steel guitar working up a two-step frenzy. When the music stops so that Brooks and Dunn can harmonize on the chorus, the moment is too pure to be sullied by ideological battles over how country music is supposed to sound.