My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘On The Front Line’

By the mid-80s, country music had moved decidedly in a more traditional direction, but Dan Seals’ albums continued to follow the same basic template of combining pop and AC-leaning songs with a handful of more traditional fare. It appears that Seals and producer Kyle Lehning were not fixing what wasn’t broken and with little wonder; 1985’s Won’t Be Blue Anymore had reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. The following year’s On The Front Line didn’t sell quite as well, but it did produce three #1 singles, just as its predecessor had.

Seals had a hand in writing seven of the album’s ten songs, which are mostly ballads and mid-tempo numbers with typical 80s style pop-country production which may have seemed very cutting edge at the time but hasn’t aged very well. This is most evident on the title track (my least favorite in this collection) and “I Will Be There”, which was written by Jennifer Kimball (who had also co-written Seals’ smash it “Bop”) and Tom Snow. “I Will Be There” is a very good song, but I’d really like to hear it without the heavy-handed synthesizer. It was the album’s second #1 hit single, following the ballad “You Still Move Me”, a Seals original composition, to the top of the charts. Though it did not cross over to the adult contemporary charts, “You Still Move Me” sounds like Seals and Lehning might have had a crossover hit in mind when they recorded it. It’s a beautiful song that has held up better than some of the album’s other tracks. Dan also wrote the collection’s third #1 hit, “Three Time Loser”, one of the album’s few uptempo numbers. More rooted in traditional country, it’s my favorite of the album’s three singles.

As far as the album cuts are concerned, there are a number of gems, including “I’m Still Strung Out On You”, a simple traditional number that Dan co-wrote with Wendy Waldman, which seems like it would have been well received by country radio at the time. “Fewer Threads Than These” is a very nice ballad that Holly Dunn would cover the following year, and “Guitar Man Out of Control” is a rockabilly-flavored number that sounds like something that Travis Tritt would have — and should have — recorded. The album ends on a high note with “Lullaby”, written by Seals and Rafe VanHoy, on which Dan is brilliantly paired with Emmylou Harris. Their voices work very well together and it’s a shame that they didn’t collaborate more often.

On The Front Line was Dan Seals’ last album for EMI America before that imprint was folded into the larger Capitol label. CD copies are hard to come by and tend to be expensive; however, it is available for download and is worth a listen despite the sometimes dated-sounding production.

Grade: B

One response to “Album Review: Dan Seals – ‘On The Front Line’

  1. Ken Johnson August 13, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I concur with most of your observations. To your point it’s true that Dan Seals was reacting to the decidedly pop direction that a lot of country music had taken by 1986. But “New Traditionalists” did not begin an earnest back-to-basics movement until late that year. Though Ricky Skaggs & George Strait had arrived they were still viewed as fringe players and Randy Travis & Dwight Yoakam were just starting to catch fire. At the time that most of this album was recorded (late 1985 & early 1986) Kenny & Dolly, Lee Greenwood, Exile, Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray & Ronnie Milsap provided the template for the core sound of current country hits. Excessive orchestration & obtrusive synthesizers ruled the day.
    A comparatively weak lineup of songs was responsible for this albums lack of success. There was no “Bop” or Everything That Glitters” to supercharge sales.

    Most of Dan’s earlier country singles were generally the same as their album counterparts but two singles from this set received notable remixes. The single version of “I Will Be There” significantly boosted the rhythm track, drums and the mandolin lead that overshadowed a bit of the annoying synthesizer. The single radio edit of “You Still Move Me” eliminated about 35 seconds from the unecessarily boring & meandering intro and also punched up the rhythm track a bit. Both of those single remixes were used for the Varese Sarabande “Very Best Of Dan Seals” CD.

    I agree that “Three Time Loser” was the standout track. Had the album contained a few more tunes along that line it may have been better received.

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