Rockin’ With The Rhythm, by the Judds
As the second full album I have listened to by the Judds, I have to say that the 1980s are a strange era of country music. Despite growing up in the country, this was an album I never heard of before ranking it down and I have not ever heard any of the songs on it, although one of them was apparently a signature song of the group’s. Consolidating the success of their debut album, this album went platinum, thus demonstrating that within the world of country music they were a successful album act, even though country acts in the 1980s seldom broke through to the mainstream charts and nothing on the album was viewed as remotely crossover material, which was probably for the best for their credibility and popularity within the country music scene. But all of this is rather peripheral to the main point of listening to any music, namely whether the material is good. Let’s find out.
“Have Mercy” begins with the album with what could easily have been a love-lorn song about a lover done wrong by her unfaithful partner, one which also offers a meta-commentary on country songs about cheating and misery, but this song is upbeat, which is probably for the better. “Grandpa (Tell Me About The Good Old Days)” is a gorgeous ode to nostalgia, which is a reminder that even if we might think of the 1980’s as a nostalgic time in our own horrific age, at the time people like the Judds thought of still earlier eras as the good old days, which only demonstrates how much worse we have things now. “Working In The Coal Mine” is a cover of a classic, and it is played upbeat, but without really getting to the core of the song’s caution about the vanity of extractive industries like coal mining, very relevant in the 1980’s, it must be admitted. “If I Were You” shows the Judds singing a melancholy love song that hits the spot for me as a love ballad about someone who is not smart enough to do what is best for him in matters of the heart. “Rockin’ With The Rhythm Of The Rain” offers an upbeat, midtempo round between the two singers that offers some excellent instrumentation to go along with the complex vocals. “Tears For You” offers more excellent harmonies and a midtempo approach to what could have been a maudlin song in the hands of less skillful artists. “Cry Myself To Sleep” continues this trend, offering a somewhat fierce look at the sadness that comes from a broken relationship, rather than wallowing in misery and sadness. “River Roll On” offers a sensible look at the aftermath of a relationship, with a determination to live on and find better days like a river keeps rolling on to the sea. “I Wish She Wouldn’t Treat You That Way” offers a nuanced perspective of the relationship of two people where the singer stands as the narrator who is in love with someone with someone already in a relationship with someone who is loyal and passionate but not respectful and honoring towards him, giving a complicated picture tinted by envy and longing. “Dreamchaster” then ends the album with a mood of longing and a sense of sadness about the way that one can follow one’s dreams without having them realized.
Overall, this is an album that manages to have an effective blend of melancholy relationship drama and a certain amount of self-awareness along with genuine longing and a resolution not to be derailed by the difficulties of love and relationships. Most of the songs either take material that could have been trying to draw out the tears and put a resolute or angry or upbeat spin on it, or take material that others would view in a purely positive light and put a more melancholy and reflective spin on it. As a result, this album feels like a bit of a concept album, beginning at the moment of crisis in a relationship, going through its aftermath and the emotional effects of it on the singer, and the singer’s longing in its closing, leading to a satisfying listening experience overall. This is an album that is full of enjoyable songs–the weakest here being the cover of “Working in The Coal Mine”–but the album as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.