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October 14, 2006|CASEY DOLAN

Turning the spotlight on musicians making a commercial breakthrough.


"I Loved Her First"


Lofton Creek

Artist info: Heartland is a country sextet from Alabama whose members take such diverse influences as traditional country, hard rock and soul and mix them into a distinctive bouillabaisse of modern country. The group's hit single, "I Loved Her First," a ballad designed to tug at the hearts of every father who has given a daughter away at a wedding, reveals the band's ability to write a country waltz with a memorable chorus and subtle harmonies.

Back story: The band members had worked together for several years before getting their first break at the final June Jam in 1997 in Fort Payne, Ala., an annual concert festival hosted. The reception Heartland received from 20,000 fans bolstered the band's confidence as a live act, eventually leading to opening slots for Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson, Neal McCoy and Diamond Rio. Regional gigs around hometown Huntsville, Ala., led to interest from country music radio programmer Dan Hollander. Hollander made a call to Mike Borchetta, president of Lofton Creek Records, a Nashville indie label making waves. Borchetta liked the music and signed the band. The result is this album, which some industry estimates suggest may have first-week sales of 55,000 to 60,000, possibly enough for a Top 20 debut on the national album chart next week.

Influences: Alabama, Johnny Cash, Beach Boys, Sam Cooke

Trivia: In the early days of Heartland, the standard coif was a mullet. According to fiddler Chuck Crawford, "If the mullet nation had a currency, these guys would have been on the $100 bill."


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