Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Best Of Reba McEntire In 1990?! Record Exec Somewhere Has Egg On Face!

The Good: Good vocals.
The Bad: SHORT, Musically uninteresting, All standards
The Basics: A surprisingly bland collection of classic Country songs, Reba McEntire fails to make any standards her own on The Best Of Reba McEntire.

These days in my musical studies there are few things that truly amuse me as much as when the “Industry” gets it wrong. Various members on the site and I are betting against the longevity of Katy Perry, but I realized this morning that the same criteria I apply to my evaluation of Perry as a flash-in-the-pan musical performer were the ones I applied to Britney Spears when I made similar predictions of her career being short. So, when I find something like James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, after only a handful of albums by him, it makes me smile. By extension, I found it laughable when I discovered that the library had gotten in The Best Of Reba McEntire, an album she released in 1990! Yes, before the whole pop-country revolution, PolyGram was already figuring listeners had heard the best of Reba McEntire.

To be fair to the record executives, who probably have egg on their faces for more than just underestimating Reba McEntire, The Best Of Reba McEntire was released well before McEntire became a one-name musical celebrity and the album has a very simple, direct Classic Country sound to it. The result is an album that is ridiculously underwhelming and actually is unlike the pop-country albums which McEntire would later release. Instead, this collection has wonderful, natural vocals by Reba McEntire as she makes her way through classic Country ballads with minimal instrumental accompaniment, minimal production and minimal content. This is Reba McEntire performing Country standards and as a result, those who are not fans of Country music will have no reason to pick it up and those who do like classic Country are likely to be left wanting more.

With only ten songs, occupying 28:20, The Best Of Reba McEntire is a poor use of the capacity of a compact disc. It is also a completely inadequate display of Reba McEntire’s talents as a musical artist as her talents here are relegated to a very small niche of performer. McEntire did not write, produce or play any instruments on any of the songs on this album. Instead, this is a collection of Country standards, like “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” and “Why Do We Want (What We Know We Can’t Have)” and Reba McEntire is only the performer who sings the lines. This is not to say her vocals are bad, because they are not, but this is hardly a distinctive collection or display of the talents of Reba McEntire.

But as one who is not much of a fan of Country music, it seemed strange to me that I had heard most of the songs on The Best Of Reba McEntire before. And as odd as it seemed to me, I had heard most of the songs enough that I was able to authoritatively state that none of these songs are presented in a way that is distinctive or unique to Reba McEntire. So, while McEntire is presenting standards, she is presenting them in a very standard way, there is no distinction which makes one think “Reba OWNS this!” Instead, those who know Classic Country can look at the track list, recognize the song titles and come to this album fearless that the versions they will hear on this album will in no way scandalize their expectations of what the songs sound like. For some that might be fine, for me, I want to hear something different.

Instrumentally, The Best Of Reba McEntire is a very placid album. Guitar, piano, violins (not really fiddles, save on “Why Do We Want (What We Know We Can’t Have)”), pedal steel and gentle drumming accompanies Reba McEntire’s vocals and this album is very direct about producing the instrumental accompaniment to be well behind the vocals. Even on “There Ain’t No Future In This,” the guitars which pluck out the melody quickly become subservient to McEntire’s vocals. The songs are entirely Country ballads, save “Why Do We Want (What We Know We Can’t Have)” and “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More.” And that song is not riotously upbeat in the way later McEntire country line-dancing type songs are. Instead, it has the County Fair swing-your-partner Square Dance feel to it more than anything more contemporary.

As for the vocals, this album clearly establishes Reba McEntire as a vocal talent who deserves some serious respect. She sings clearly in her contralto voice and even on repetitive songs like “I Don’t Think Love Ought To Be That Way,” she has a sense of pep and emotion that makes the songs eminently listenable. Her cover of “Only You (And You Alone)” is appropriately sweet and sappy and her voice is exceptional throughout. This is a great collection of vocal presentations, even if she consistently delivers exactly what one expects from each and every one of the songs.

As for the songs, they are almost entirely about love and relationships. They either feature a musical protagonist who is pining for a loved one (“Only You (And You Alone),” “(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven”) or is suffering a breakup (“Can’t Even Get The Blues No More,” “Today All Over Again”), though like good strong Country women, the protagonists do not suffer, they move on. The album is remarkably bland lyrically, with a classic, Lawrence Welk-style value to the lyrics and sound of the songs. In fact, the only song that piqued my ear from the lines was when Reba McEntire sings “All night long / I’ve been driven to your touch / Haven’t had time to give / I’ve been taking so much / I know you want to hold me / But darling you’ve done enough / You’ve been turning me on all night long / Now it’s my turn” (“My Turn”). The song is presented in a way that is unabashedly sexual and it’s fun to hear in the Country music context.

That said, there’s not enough on the album in any form to keep my interest. The album is short, unoriginal and while Reba sings well on it, she does more impressive works on other albums she has been involved in. The best track is “Only You (And You Alone),” the low point is “There Ain’t No Future In This.”

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
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 album reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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