Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Average Country In Below-Average Capacity, Just A Little Love By Reba McEntire.

The Good: Good vocals, Nothing bad in the instrumental accompaniment
The Bad: SHORT, Aurally monotonous.
The Basics: Surprisingly dull in every way, Just A Little Love is a dreadfully short classic Country album by Reba McEntire which even the fans can skip.

I swear, whenever I start a new year, I seem to pick an Artist Of The Month to immerse myself in who is anything but an artist. Case in point, as I work through my latest album by Reba McEntire, I've only heard a single song that she has co-written. Every other work by her has been one where she is simply a performer of the song. Given how McEntire is one of the most prolific female artists or performers, that she is merely a performer is disappointing. It's also pretty astonishing to me, as she counts Patsy Cline as one of her major influences, it seems strange that she would merely perform Cline's works as opposed to create like her musical influence. As I jump back to one of McEntire's earliest works, Just A Little Love, I find myself especially unimpressed.

A 1984 album by Reba McEntire, Just A Little Love is a classic Country album in the sense that it is a collection of (mostly) ballads that sound musically simple and generally wholesome. Classic Country has a sound much like Classic Gospel music and Just A Little Love sounds like a mix tape of Star Search auditions: high on the schmaltz, emphasizing the vocal talents of Reba McEntire more than anything else. It's also one that reminds me why I'm not generally a fan of Country music, in that it is so simple that the overall sound of the album is strikingly monotonous to the ear. This has very limited appeal and while it might otherwise be average, the ridiculously short duration of the album knocks it down into below-average territory.

With only ten songs, occupying 34:16 on a single compact disc, Just A Little Love is a poor use of the medium. As well, it is a thoroughly underwhelming display of Reba McEntire's talents. While McEntire sings the primary vocals on each and every song, she was not involved in writing any of the songs, nor does she play any instruments on any of the songs. Furthermore, because she was not involved in the production of the album (not even a co-producing role!), it is difficult to argue that this is even Reba McEntire's musical vision. This might be the saving grace for McEntire's career as far as Just A Little Love is concerned.

The ten songs on Just A Little Love have a narcoleptic, nursing home sound system feel to them. Outside the more raucous, square-dance melody to "Silver Eagle" and "Poison Sugar," Just A Little Love is a sleepy collection of Country music ballads which sound like they are either being played by two guys hired by the hour for a senior citizen's wedding or are being pumped through a nursing home's sound system. In other words, there is nothing that truly attracts the ears and makes the listener feel like they are hearing something new or even remotely interesting. As the album is replayed, the banality of the instrumental accompaniment becomes tiresome.

The songs on Just A Little Love are dominated by keyboards and guitars, with minimal drums and percussion. In fact, basslines provide at least as much timekeeping on the album and establish as much of a rhythm section as the percussive instruments. All of the songs, starting with the title track, have predictable sweeping crescendos and the use of the steel guitar clearly keeps the sound in a realm that is considered classic Country. The thing is, after listening to this album over a dozen times, I don't think there's a single tune on it that stands out and that I will remember in three album's time. I'm pretty sure that "Every Second Someone Breaks A Heart" is just a slightly more upbeat version of "Just A Little Love!" As well, "I'm Gettin' Over You" actually sounds more like a typical 1980s pop song than a Country ballad.

Just as the instrumental accompaniment is somewhat somnambulic in its presentation, Just A Little Love is depressingly monotonous in its vocal presentations. McEntire is appropriately energetic on "Poison Sugar" and "Silver Eagle," but she presents such a monotonous earnestness on every other song, that the analogy to Star Search holds. Virtually every song sounds like she is competing for attention and emoting is the key to getting the crowd's votes. Unfortunately, this quickly causes the songs to blend together.

This is not to say McEntire has bad vocals. Just the opposite: Reba McEntire has a clear, beautiful alto voice and she uses it quite well. She is articulate and she sings each song with her voice produced well ahead of the instrumental accompaniment. Unfortunately, her emotional range on the album makes the album seem rather droll. Because all of the songs have the same earnest quality to them, she seems to be a one-trick pony in terms of emotional emphasis and that makes Just A Little Love hold up poorly over multiple listens. Even on songs where the lyrics might be a bit more ironic, like "I'm Gettin' Over You," McEntire sounds more earnest than impressive.

Here is where a good A&R team could have helped Reba McEntire with Just A Little Love. The songs, outside the traveling song "Silver Eagle" which tops off the album, are all about love and loss. The thematic monotony adds to the overall sense that McEntire isn't presenting anything truly new on the album. Instead, the best the album has is the tongue-in-cheek (and strangely poppy) "Every Second Someone Breaks A Heart." On that song, McEntire energetically sings "It's a dangerous world we live in / Crime is everywhere / There's always some sad story going down / You can read it in the papers / You can see it in the air / It's an evil epidemic going round / But nobody seems to notice / The saddest crime of all / Just how many times a day / Someone takes their love away . . ." ("Every Second Someone Breaks A Heart"). The song is the closest to creativity the album gets and, unfortunately, that leaves the listener especially depressed in that the remaining songs are predictable and quickly fade to white noise when one listens to the album on replay.

Ultimately, that's the fundamental problem with Just A Little Love: it is musically boring and uninspired and even those who love classic Country, are likely to find this album tiresome in every way imaginable. For fans of Reba McEntire, nothing essential is missing from the collection that does not include this album. Instead, this can be safely passed by.

The best song is "Every Second Someone Breaks A Heart," the low point is "Congratulations."

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
The Best Of Reba McEntire
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor
Room To Breathe
20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection - Best Of Reba


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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