April 26, 1994
After two successful albums with producers Paul Worley & Ed Seay, Pam Tillis needed a change. She approached her label with a request to co-produce her third country album, and with their full support, she entered the studio with Steve Fischell to create Sweetheart’s Dance, the album that would bring Tillis the most critical and commercial success in her career and earn her the coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award.
Sweetheart’s Dance distinguishes itself among the rest of Tillis’ catalog and the bulk of mainstream country releases during the mid-nineties with its relentless, joyous optimism. The album slows down only three times over ten standout tracks, a ratio of uptempos to ballads that is incredibly rare among female country artists. What’s most impressive is the range of styles those uptempo songs explore, making each one distinctive.
The album opens with the Tex-Mex rocker “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)”, inspired by a Latina gang member’s tattoo that Tillis saw on Geraldo Rivera’s talk show. It would become Tillis’ only #1 Billboard country single. The title track is a classic country shuffle, with the clever hook “Lovers quarrel, sweetheart’s dance.”
Another big hit from the album, “When You Walk in The Room”, is a slice of Phil Spector pop with a twist of country – Tillis dropped a note from the hook of the Jackie De Shannon classic so it would blend better with the steel guitar on the track.
As good as the up-tempo romps are, however, a trio of ballads give the album its substance, as they are strikingly original songs that explore relationships besides those of lovers. “Calico Plains”, written by Matraca Berg and featured on Berg’s RCA debut album a few years earlier, tells the tale of a young girl who idolizes her older sister, who has big dreams that are eventually derailed by an unexpected pregnancy: “I stood beside her when September came, watched her get married and caught the bouquet, and like those hand-me-down dresses she gave me, I made her dreams mine.”
Lead single “Spilled Perfume” was co-written by Tillis with songwriting legend Dean Dillon, and it’s an intimate conversation between two good friends, one of which has had a one-night stand that she’s regretting the next morning: “Let me tell you friend to friend,” Tillis counsels, “about a block I’ve been around.”
Best of all is “In Between Dances”, a gorgeous waltz that is arguably the best among Tillis’ extensive list of hits. It uses the metaphor of dancing to capture that delicate moment between the ending of one relationship and the beginning of another. She’s holding out hope that the next dance will be for keeps, but she’s wary after being burned: “I’ve had my moments where I could get lost in the sound, but when the song ended, the one in my arms let me down.”
Brian Mansfield, one of the most accomplished and respected country music journalists, wrote at the time of its release that “Sweetheart’s Dance will have you pulling out your favorite albums to see if maybe, just maybe, this is the best country album by a woman in the 90’s.” In retrospect, that high praise remains true. Along with Hearts in Armor, When Fallen Angels Fly, Stones in the Road and Wrecking Ball, Tillis’ third country set helped define the female country sound in the mid-nineties, which remains the golden age for women in country music. Until the release of Rhinestoned earlier this year, it was also the artistic high point for Tillis herself.
Track Listing: Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)/Sweetheart’s Dance/Calico Plains/When You Walk in the Room/Spilled Perfume/I Was Blown Away/They Don’t Break ‘Em Like They Used To/In Between Dances/Better Off Blue/’Til All The Lonely’s Gone
Buy Now: Sweetheart’s Dance