Heartland, by the Judds
One of the things that one finds when one listens to the country music of the 1980s as opposed to more recent periods is that country albums were far shorter then than they are now. This country album was released towards the beginning of 1987, and contains hits that lasted into 1988, and has nine tracks. Nowadays, an artist would scarcely think that to be a sufficient number of tracks even to consider something an album instead of an EP. Yet in the 1980s, as one sees when one listens to albums from this era, 9 or 10 songs was considered to be perfectly acceptable for a full-length album, and one that could have an era of one or two years before another collection of similarly professionally written and well-produced songs was released. The question is, are these songs any good? Let’s find out.
The album begins with a glacially slow version of “Don’t Be Cruel” that thankfully speeds up after the first couple of phrases but which is generally acoustic with odd verbal phrasing. “I’m Falling In Love Tonight” is a more gorgeous and traditional country ballad about falling in love, an easy song to appreciate and something that would sound good for a slow dance. “Turn It Loose” is one of those country gatekeeping songs that seeks to add a bit of R&B to traditional country and is a well-produced song that is full of instrumental production even if the lyrics are a bit basic. “Old Pictures” is a lovely and nostalgic song about reflecting on love and the importance of memory in reflecting on our lives with other people. “Cow Cow Boogie” is a song that one could probably dance to and have a good time with but which is pretty stupid lyrically speaking. “Maybe Your Baby’s Got The Blues” is a somewhat melancholy song that urges men to love their partners going through the blues, which is a sensitive enough point if again, rather basic in nature. “I Know Where I’m Going” offers an invitation to the listener to follow where the narrator is going, though it is easy to doubt, given the song’s production, whether in fact the narrator knows where she is going. “Why Don’t You Believe Me” is a straightforward and pretty basic song that questions why it is that the would-be partner of the narrator doesn’t believe her when she offers love and a relationship to him, a fair enough question but one that has no answer given or a voice to provide that answer. “The Sweetest Gift” offers a melodramatic portrayal of devoted, if somewhat naive and deluded, love for a son by a loving mother. Perhaps some people will be moved by it, but I was largely unmoved by the effort myself.
Ultimately, this album is not a bad one. Of the nine songs on this album, the first is an unnecessary cover, another is a dumb dance song, and most of the rest are pretty basic songs about love of one kind or another. The fact that this album is pretty basic is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit the replay value that this album would have for me personally. As a listener, I would likely not change the station if most of these songs were playing, but at the same time I would not be motivated to seek these songs out. That is what I can say about a fair amount of the country music of this particular period of time in the 1980s when country music existed in a bit of a silo, where no physical singles were released that would have demonstrated which songs had any genuine popularity with people and where there was a focus on selling a few hundred thousands of copies of generally accomplished but frequently unimpressive albums as this one is.