My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Troy Seals

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)

Album Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Strong Enough To Bend’

TanyaTuckerStrongEnoughtoBendTanya’s third release for Capitol, in 1988, showed no signs of a creative or commercial slowdown, even though she finally admitted that year that she had alcohol and cocaine addictions, and went into rehab.

Strong Enough To Bend is one of my favorite Tanya Tucker albums. Produced as before by Jerry Crutchfield, it features some very good songs, and shows Tanya at her best vocally. She commits 100% even to the less stellar material. For some reason it was recorded in the Bahamas, but the usual top Nashville session musicians were imported to play on the record.

The title track and lead-off single, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Don Schlitz, was a charming piece comparing a lasting relationship to a tree which bends in the wind instead of breaking:
“Sway with the wind ’til the storm is gone
Like a tree out in the back yard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend.”

It is the kind of song which might sound sappy performed by a more sentimental singer, but Tanya tackles it briskly enough to let the message sound rooted in experience. It was to be Tanya’s last #1 hit.

Tanya took a completely different approach in the track which was picked to follow it on the charts, the positively raunchy ‘Highway Robbery’. This semi-novelty song has Tanya stopped from speeding and claiming the (perfectly good) excuse that she was doing it only so she could hunt down the hot blue-eyed guy who “stole my heart from a moving car” when he passed her some miles back down the road. “He oughta do time in my arms for what he’s done”, she claims, evidently to no effect, as by the fadeout at the end of the song she’s abandoned him in favor of making eyes at the (lucky?) patrolman. The story is entertaining if silly, but too heavily produced for my taste, but was a big (#2) hit. Also successful despite being very over-produced was my least favorite track, the boring and pop-sounding ‘Call On Me’, which reached #4.

The final single released from the album, the touching ‘Daddy And Home’, was less successful, but is actually the highlight of the album. Altough it is not typical of Tanya’s best-known material, it is one of her finest moments artistically. It is a beautifully restrained and tender take on an old Jimmie Rodgers classic about homesickness and a child’s love for an aging father, which Tanya dedicated to her own father, a major influence on her career.

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