The Judds


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Opening as it does with "Don't Be Cruel," the listener might be led to believe that Heartland was a distinct follow-up to Rockin' With the Rhythm. But it's a misleading track. While "Don't Be Cruel" gives you a fresh, new interpretation of the classic so closely associated with Elvis that it feels like a the Everly Sisters reinvention rather than a redo, it's also different from virtually everything else on the album. Far from the nominal gritty funkiness of its predecessor, Heartland walks a thin line between roots rock and mainstream country. Mostly with producer Brent Maher and the same band that had been playing with them from the beginning, this set feels a tad uneven. Perhaps it's because the great songs here such as the aforementioned "Turn It Loose," "Cow Cow Boogie," and "I Know Where I'm Going" outshine the ballads not just in terms of energy, but in vocal experimentation. Only "The Sweetest Gift" with Emmylou Harris adding another voice to an already rich harmonic tapestry equals the bluesier, swinging country-rock tunes. That doesn't make this a bad or substandard record in any way, just one that creates a tension within itself that remains unresolved.

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