The album revisits themes now classified as Americana, with composition dates that range from 1978 to 2009. Black Earth is an elegy for the family farm, while Question of Style details lessons to be learned from the mighty Mississippi. Among new compositions, Gas It Up unfashionably celebrates big cars and cheap gas, while Dakota Territory remembers homestead days in the upper Midwest, when houses were made of sod, and the prairie wind brought life or death, depending on the season.
Jones plays acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and cello. Brother Jeffrey, who sings harmony on may of the tracks, has accompanied him since the two played together in a 1977 Amsterdam hotel gig. Sister Karen and her partner Bev Futrell are the core of the long-running Reel World band and contribute harmonies, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica. Cousin Dave Gillespie added a hot guitar solo on Gas It Up, and Uptown Combo partner Jack Bowen puts some Honky Tonk piano on I Work Hard for a Livin’. Mark Weakland, often found on stage with The Newlanders, Peter King, or Heather Kropf, came in last and added drums and percussion.
Heartland is drawn from the songwriter’s own background: the Midwest, the core, people and places that are loved. Variations means diversity, but also the unexpected, as well as the classical musical sense of seeing how far a theme can be taken before it breaks.