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After he earned a philosophy degree from UCF in 2005, Mike Dunn was happy to receive, as a graduation present, payment to record his first EP. He had finally put together enough of his own material for a CD, and, with encouragement from friend/producer Louis DeFabrizio (of Gasoline Heart), Mike Dunn & The Kings of New England were ready to record.

The result was the six-track The Edge of America, out in 2006 and soon touted for its comfortable, sing-along feel.

Now, having spent much of this summer touring the Southeast and Midwest, Dunn and his band — C.J. Mask (lead guitar), Chris Martin (bass guitar), and Daniel “Bones” Anderson (drums) — have returned home.

Dunn, 24, connects to the Orlando community and music scene in general, but when asked where he’s from, he answers, “Winter Park.” His affinity stems from one particular locale, New England Avenue, for which his band is named. There, Dunn lives in a “kind of artist community,” among other writers, musicians, artists, photographers and the like. Of course, the Kings of New England are often first asked if they hail from the other New England. “But I don’t mind explaining it, because I’m proud of the name,” Dunn says. “It’s a connection to the people I believe in; they live on this street with me.”

Both recorded and live, the band’s sound is impressively polished; what some might call “radio ready.” Common comparisons are Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, and both strong influences. The similarities to these artists lie in the musical style: that acoustic-guitar-driven school of rock where you could probably also group Bob Dylan and John Cougar, and where the focus is on the lyrics and the stories they tell. Dunn calls the style “Americana.”

If anything has concerned Dunn about the music business, it is whether now may be the right time for Americana to stand out. “Now, everything I see coming out, at least in rock, has a gimmick to it. We try to be really conscious of being gimmick free. I want to stand on the merit of my songwriting and my performance, and not have to wear makeup or something like that.”

As the lyrics are the key to his music, Dunn considers himself a songwriter “definitely above anything else,” he says. “I’m not a virtuosic guitarist; I’m not going to go up there and do this amazing solo or fingertapping, but lyrics, melody and music, that’s what I care about.”

“There’s a genuine craft to songwriting, it’s like building something, and when you’re done with it, it’s something complete, something you made, and it lasts forever.”

music@orlandoweekly.com

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