Classic Album Review-Mel Tillis “Heart Healer”
Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found on the turntable, in the CD player, or in the MP3 player. Today’s Classic Album Review, a 1977 release from Mel Tillis. Heart Healer was his second release, after leaving MGM for MCA. Interestingly, Mel only had two top ten albums in his career, of which this was the second, peaking at six. Two singles came from the album, the number one title cut, and the top ten “Burning Memories”, a song that Mel co-wrote with Wayne Walker, and had previously been a 1964 hit for Ray Price.
The title track opens the disc, and it’s about as rocking as Mel got, with a similar style and beat to his earlier hit, “I Ain’t Never”. ”Heart Healer” became Mel’s third #1 hit, in early Spring. The infectious mix of rhythm and melody make this a nearly irresistible piece.
“Wedding Bells” is a cover of the 1949 Hank Williams classic. Mel’s gives a nice cover, here, with some extremely good vocal work, mixed with an arrangement that’s not too heavy, just right.
It’s bouncy and possesses a catchy melody, but “Play It Again, Sam” still seems to be missing something. The lyrics aren’t bad, in fact, the strength of the song.
“Someone Else Tends The Garden” compares the wife to a garden, though it’s not completely clear whether the wife is an ex- or just slipping around (I would guess the former). This track doesn’t really do anything for me; Mel’s performance is fine, but lyrically kind of awkward.
Side one ends with a near killer version of “The Morning After Baby Let Me Down”. The song was a 1972 hit for it’s writer, Ray Griff. Mel’s version is as good, in fact, it could have easily been a single. Definite Hidden Gem contender.
Interesting to note that twice, Mel wrote a song that became a hit for Ray Price, then later a hit for Mel. ”Heart Over Mind” was the first, followed by “Burning Memories”. While Mel’s version didn’t do quite as well as Ray’s (#9 peak for Mel; #2 for Ray), it’s still a fine version that nearly rivals the original. While Ray Price’s version has a more dramatic feel to it, the sadness and despair is more prevalent on the Mel Tillis version.
The album’s other weak track is the “Golden Nugget Gambling Casino”, which has a nice melody, but is weak, lyrically. It feels like the writer ran out of words and just kept repeating the same ones over and over.
“I Don’t Want To Feel This Way Forever” is a fine ballad, something that Mel always excelled at. While his style, in general, changed a bit at MCA, this track has a feel similar to much of his MGM work. Another Hidden Gem contender, here, on a track that has a catchy hook in the refrain, mixed with some good lyrical work.
Unlike many country albums of the 1970′s and 1980′s, this album is heavy on up-tempo material, including Everyone Needs Someone”. Like the melody, here, and the lyrics, too. Another strong track.
While the album is heavy on the quicker paced material, it’s a slower ballad that ends the disc, with “It’s Just Not That Easy To Say”. Good country, right here. How a good country ballad should sound!
Out of print, but used copies are not too hard to find. I found several, mostly under $10.
My Standout Track goes to “Heart Healer”, while the Hidden Gem goes to Mel’s version of “The Morning After Baby Let Me Down”. Weakest Track goes to “Golden Nugget Gambling Casino”.
Overall, this is a good album. Good material, mixed with strong vocal work, and very good arrangements, as well. Very little not to like, here, I give it a 3.5 out of 5.