My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: The Judds – ‘Heartland’

The duo’s third full length album was released in February 1987.  It largely continued on the same pattern as their exceptionally successful earlier records, and continued their hot streak on the charts, although the material as a whole was not as strong.  The lead single was a cover of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ featuring sultry lead vocals from Wynonna backed by the Jordanaires, who had also sung on Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit version.  Surprisingly, it broke their string of #1 hits, peaking at #10, but after this sidestep, it was back to the chart toppers with each of the three remaining singles released from the album.

The hypnotically catchy ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ is a confident and playful invitation to share the protagonist’s start of a new life, written by producer Brent Maher  with Craig Bickhardt and Don Schlitz,  which was a natural for radio and is still irrestistible listening.  It was followed by the contrasting melodic ballad ‘Maybe Your Baby’s Got the Blues’, written by Troy Seals and Graham Lyle.  Wynonna’s lead vocal is tenderly sympathetic as she offers romantic advice to save a relationship, supported by the subtly faint strains of an organ.

Finally, the funky ‘Turn It Loose’, another successful Maher/Bickhardt/Schlitz collaboration, is a lively love song to music.  It is largely enjoyable apart from Wynonna’s occasional grunt.  Schlitz and Maher teamed up with Don Potter to write the pleasant ‘Why Don’t You Believe Me’, while Maher, Potter and Bickhardt came up with the similar ‘I’m Falling In Love’.  Wynonna’s lead vocals on both songs are excellent, but the songs themselves, while melodic, are forgettable.

‘Cow Cow Boogie’ is a jazzy take on cowboy songs.  This is not a favorite of mine, but was definitely an interesting experiment which few other mainstream stars would have tackled.  The gentle family reminiscences of ‘Old Pictures’ (written by K T Oslin (about to make her own breakthrough with her signature song ‘80s Ladies’) with Jerry Gillespie), set to a pretty melody, make for very pleasing listening, and although the keyboards sound slightly dated, the delicate harmonies are still a delight.

While most of the album reveals other musical influences, the duo affirmed their country roots with an exquisite reading of ‘The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)’, which is the outstanding moment musically. Supplemented by a heavenly third harmony from Emmylou Harris on the chorus, this is an absolutely beautiful reading of the tragic tale of ‘an erring but precious son’ and the grieving mother whose loving visit cheers his prison travail.  This is worth downloading even if the rest of the album does not appeal.

Including only nine tracks even on the CD version made this a rather mean spirited release from RCA even by their standard.  Notwithstanding this, it was commercially very successful, the string of #1 hits and the band’s fanbase helping to propel it to platinum level sales.  It was also used as the springboard for an attempt to break the Judds to international audiences.  Under the title Give A Little Love, the European release added Paul Kennerley’s insistent title track, which was at the time unreleased in the US but was later to appear on their Greatest Hits and was then a #2 country hit for the duo, together with five of the six tracks from their six track debut EP, omitting only ‘Mama He’s Crazy’.  Unfortunately this version is no longer easy to find, as it is much better value with the added material.

Heartland continued the Judds’ run as one of the top acts in country music and certainly the genre’s pre-eminent duo.  However, musically, it did not really break any new ground.

Grade: B (A for the European version)

One response to “Album Review: The Judds – ‘Heartland’

  1. Razor X January 11, 2012 at 8:55 am

    This is my least favorite Judds album. It’s decent, but not nearly as good as the others. “I’m Falling In Love Tonight” and “Old Pictures” are my two favorite songs from this one.

    As far as the album only having nine tracks is concerned, 1987 was the year that RCA cut back the number of tracks on an album instead of raising their prices. It annoyed me then and it still annoys me now whenever I play one of those albums. Within a year or two, as CD sales finally began to eclipse vinyl and cassettes, they began adding a bonus track to the CD versions.

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