Mark Chesnutt’s second independent release, the follow-up to 2004′s Savin’ The Honky Tonk, is primarily a collection of remakes of a few well known songs and a handful of obscure ones. Though slightly less cohesive than its predecessor, Heard It In A Love Song allows Chesnutt to shine in a way that his last few major label releases did not.
The title track was a 1977 hit for the Marshall Tucker Band. I was never a big fan of the original version, so I wasn’t expecting to like Mark’s version very much, but after listening to it for the first time I was pleasantly surprised. Though vastly superior to the original, it is still the weakest song in this collection that seems slightly out of place alongside the other songs on the album. Its inclusion was likely a calculated move to garner some radio airplay; so many country radio program directors nowadays come from a pop/rock rather than country background, so remakes of old pop hits are often stand a better chance of making it onto station playlists. Indeed, “Heard It In A Love Song” is the most commercial song in this set; nevertheless it failed to chart when it was released as the album’s first single.
“That Good That Bad”, a pleasant dance-hall number and the only new original song on the album, was released as the second single. Written by Mark along with Roger Springer and Clessie Lee Morrissette, Jr., it is reminiscent of the type of song that appeared on Mark’s major label releases. In fact, it was recorded during Mark’s Thank God For Believers sessions, but left off the album. It too, failed to chart.
“A Hard Secret To Keep”, which had appeared on Savin’ The Honky Tonk, is reprised here in a newly-recorded version. Though it is a good song and Chesnutt’s performance is solid, its inclusion is a bit of a disappointment; Heard It In A Love Song contains a meager — by today’s standards — ten tracks, so recycling a song that appeared just one album earlier is bound to leave the listener feeling a little disappointed.
The remaining seven songs on the album are are remakes of songs made famous, to one degree or another, by other country artists. What sets Heard It In A Love Song apart from other cover albums is its reliance on some obscure material, as well as some well-known classics. Among the more famous songs are “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, which has been recorded countless times by artists such as Collin Raye, Martina McBride, and Patty Loveless. Chesnutt’s rendition, however, is surprisingly strong, and is the best version of the song I’ve heard, aside from Waylon Jennings’ original recording. Mark turns in another strong performance on “Apartment #9″,. a Johnny Paycheck-Bobby Austin composition, that is best remembered as the record that resulted when a then-unknown Tammy Wynette knocked on Billy Sherill’s office door and asked for a record deal.
My favorite song on the album is “A Shoulder To Cry On”, an overlooked gem written by Merle Haggard, and recorded by Charley Pride. Pride’s 1973 recording was a #1 hit but it is largely forgotten today. Though Chesnutt’s version cannot compare with the original, it’s nice to see that the song was resurrected and given the opportunity to find a new audience.
“A Day In The Life Of A Fool” was originally recorded by George Jones for Musicor Records, and released in 1972 after Jones had departed the label for Epic. It was a common practice at the time, when an artist switched record companies, for the former label to dig into its archives and release singles to compete with the same artist’s recordings for a new label. This somewhat limited the record’s chart potential; it peaked at #30, and as such is one of the Possum’s most obscure hits. It was worthy of a revival. Covering a George Jones song has got to be an intimidating prospect for any artist, but Mark’s remake, which is somewhat less polished than the original, succeeds nicely.
Another rarity is the Tommy Collins composition “Goodbye Comes Hard To Me”, a decent song that didn’t make as much of an impression on me as the others, probably since I’m unfamiliar with the original. Rounding out the set are covers of Hank Williams Sr and Jr. — the latter’s energetic “You Can’t Find Many Kissers”, and a surprisingly good version of Hank Sr.’s 1949 classic “Lost Highway” which closes out the album.
Heard It In A Love Song may have been a commercial failure — it was the first Mark Chesnutt album since his 1988 independent debut that failed to produce any charting singles — but it is nonetheless one of his most enjoyable, particularly for those who are fed up with the watered-down pop that currently dominates the mainstream country scene.
It’s out of print in CD form; but is still available with a relatively high price tagfrom third party sellers on Amazon. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes, although, due to licensing restrictions, the digital version of the ablum does not include “That Good That Bad.”