Cleveland's Michael Stanley Band were a phenomenon in Northeast Ohio in the late '70s and early '80s and set attendance records at several concert halls, but MSB only achieved modest success nationwide. Heartland, a superb slice of meat-and-potatoes, Midwestern rock & roll, is their best album; Stanley himself says as much in the liner notes of their Razor & Tie reissue. MSB had been dropped by Arista Records after 1979' s Greatest Hints and were having trouble finding a new label, so the bandmembers decided to produce an album completely on their own terms with no outside meddling. If they couldn't find a label, they planned on releasing the album independently. Luckily, EMI America picked up Heartland and the Michael Stanley Band spent their four most prosperous years with the company.
Every Heartland track has merit, but the most familiar song is the infectious pop/rocker "He Can't Love You," which was MSB's first Top 40 hit. Keyboardist Kevin Raleigh sings lead, and Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band contributes the blistering saxophone lines. Clemons also plays on a few other cuts including the minor hit "Lover," (its signature lyric, "Thank God for the man who put the white lines on the highway," became a singalong favorite at concerts). "Don't Stop the Music" is a driving rocker propelled by Gary Markasky's guitar riffs and Tommy Dobeck's energetic snare-drum work. "Working Again" is a catchy blue-collar anthem. MSB's pop leanings are evident on "I'll Never Need Anyone More (Than I Need You Tonight)" and "Carolyn," yet "Voodoo" has an appropriately dark vibe. Heartland is a must for lovers of pure rock & roll.