My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: The Judds – ‘Rockin’ With the Rhythm’

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about 1985’s Rockin’ With the Rhythm. Producer Brent Maher seemed to be adhering to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” principle, using essentially the same formula and many of the same songwriters that had made Why Not Me a double-platinum success. The strategy was an effective one, allowing The Judds to continue on their winning streak. All of the album’s four singles reached the top of the charts, and though it did not sell quite as well as its predecessor, it still achieved platinum certification at a time when female country artists rarely reached such sales figures. It was also named Billboard’s Top Country Album of 1986.

The single releases were book-ended by two Paul Kennerly compositions, “Have Mercy” and “Cry Myself to Sleep”. In both songs, the protagonist is at her wit’s end trying to come to terms with the end of a somewhat emotionally abusive relationship, although “Have Mercy” takes a much more tongue-in-cheek approach than the dead-serious “Cry Myself to Sleep”. In between these two #1 hits were “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)” and the upbeat title track. “Grandpa”, which takes a nostalgic look back a simpler and happier era that perhaps never really existed in the first place, became The Judds’ best known hit. The song earned the duo their third consecutive Grammy award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1987.

Like its predecessor, Rockin’ With the Rhythm contains a treasure trove of album cuts that had hit single potential, had RCA/Curb chosen to release them to radio. My favorite is “If I Were You”, penned by Sonny Throckmorton and Brent Maher along with the great Harlan Howard, followed by a cover of Lee Dorsey’s 1966 R&B hit “Workin’ in the Coal Mine”. The closing track “Dream Chaser” is a real beauty that sounds almost semi-autobiographical, though neither of the Judds had a hand in writing it. In fact, Rockin’ With the Rhythm is the first of only two Judds albums that contained none of Naomi’s original compositions, but with songwriters such as Paul Kennerly, Don Schlitz, Jamie O’Hara, Sonny Throckmorton, Harlan Howard, Kevin Welch, and Jeffrey Hawthorne Bullock — who wrote “Dream Chaser” with Brent Maher — the lack of Naomi’s contribution as a songwriter is barely noticed.

To a certain extent, Rockin’ With the Rhythm can be viewed as a continuation of Why Not Me. I’m undecided as to which album I like better, but as a pair, they represent the duo’s very best work. A testament to their strength is the fact 1988’s Greatest Hits collection consisted solely of the eight singles culled from these two albums, along with two new tracks. Although Wynonna and Naomi went on to release three more solid studio albums, as well as a Christmas collection, they would never quite reach this creative zenith again. The album is highly recommended, and easy to find.

Grade: A

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