The title of Highway 101’s sophomore album is not, as you might think, the number 2. Rather, it is the symbol for squared. Pretentious title aside, the material isn’t quite as consistently strong as on their debut album, but it is still a very rewarding record, and helped to maintain them as one of the top country groups of the late 80s.
The exuberant lead single, ‘(Do You Love Me) Just Say Yes’, was the band’s third #1 hit. It was written by Bob DiPiero, John Scott Sherrill and Dennis Robbins.
It was followed by my favourite track on the album, the sweetly sung, regretful ballad ‘All The Reasons Why’, which reached #5. Written by Paulette Carlson with Beth Nielsen Chapman, its guilty protagonist has just broken up with her unfortunate spouse, who can’t understand why:
You’ve asked what you’ve done wrong,
And if there’s someone new
What has changed my heart
And what else can you do
Oh darlin’ can’t you see
It’s not so cut and dried
And who knows where love goes
And all the reasons why
She wants to stay friends, but it’s hard to see that happening.
There was a change of pace for the third single, the urgent ‘Setting Me Up. This was a cover of an album cut by the British rock band Dire Straits, written by that band’s Mark Knopfler. Apparently he was unaware that his publisher had some country demos recorded of his songs, resulting in this and other cuts, but he did have some country influences – in 1989-90 his main project was a country-rock-blues band called the Notting Hillbillies, which also featured steel guitar legend Paul Franklin, and he later made an album and toured with Emmylou Harris. This song isn’t particularly country in its rhythmic structure, but was another to 10 hit, and allowed more of a band feel than usual, with some superb playing by the guys and a share of the vocals.
The last single, another top 10 tune, was the excellent ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, written by Jim Photoglo and Russell Smith. It is a rather upbeat breakup song in which the protagonist has grown up since meeting her ex in a bar, and now wants more to life:
The night life isn’t my life anymore
What matters most to me is a home and family
But you can’t find that behind those swingin’ doors…
I won’t play second fiddle to the beat of your honky tonk heart
Go on back to the bar where I found you
Go on back to your so-called second home
You’ll feel better with your good-time friends around you
And I’ll be here but I won’t be alone
Photoglo also co-wrote (with Wendy Waldman and Josh Leo) the solid mid-tempo ‘Road To Your Heart’.
‘Somewhere Between Gone And Goodbye’ is an excellent song written by Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset’, given a sparse production and great harmonies. An anxious woman lies awake wondering when her man is coming home:
How many nights must I lay me down and wonder
Will I wake up tomorrow without you by my side?
I’m feeling worn and thin as the sheets that I lay under
Lying somewhere between gone and goodbye
Late night headlights out in the driveway
Drivin’ me crazy again
No need to sneak in
I wasn’t really sleepin’
No need to tell me
I know where you’ve been
It feels like the prequel to ‘Honky Tonk Heart’, and would have made another good single.
A vibrant and authentic sounding cover of Buck Owens’ ‘There Goes My Heart’ reminds us of the band’s California roots. ‘Feed This Fire’ is an earnest love song written by Hugh Prestwood about the need to work at keeping the romance going; it was subsequently a hit single for Anne Murray. Paulette fights temptation she knows has no good ending in ‘Desperate Road’.
Finally, Beth Nielsen Chapman’s ‘Long Way Down’ is a strong story song about a young woman musician who has fought her way to stardom from tough beginnings, but can’t rest on her laurels.
While the album lacks the classics of their debut, this is a very strong follow up with no weak songs.