Monday, December 6, 2010

Country-Pop With The Whole "Line Dance Feel:" It's Your Call By Reba McEntire.

The Good: Good vocals, Sounds like Country with a pop undertone
The Bad: Dreadfully SHORT!, Often overproduced instrumental accompaniment, Simplistic lyrics.
The Basics: More average, though exceptionally disappointing for its short duration, It's Your Call by Reba McEntire is still unremarkably.

I've not been a fan of Country music . . . well, ever. When I was in high school, in fact, I was downright prejudiced against it. Having found a wife from Middle America where such music is popular and commonplace, I have opened myself up to the genre and I would probably respect it more if it were still a legitimate and recognizably differentiated genre. Unfortunately for fans and listeners, it is hard to listen to most Country and not honestly admit that it is simply where pop-rock was about ten to twenty years ago (don't believe me? Play Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" right before or after an early Britney Spears song and you'll be frightened by the resemblance).

What all this means is that when I selected Reba McEntire last year as my January Artist Of The Month, it truly was an act of self-enrichment, which is the purpose of my Artist Of The Month explorations. And while so far I've been less impressed with what I've heard from Reba McEntire, at least with It's Your Call, I can recognize the distinction of Reba as a Country music performer. Unfortunately, because the album is so short, the lyrics are so generally unimpressive and the instrumental accompaniment is so overproduced, I still could not bring myself to recommend this one. That said, it's not the worst album I've ever heard, it's just painfully average . . . especially as it seems to be on the cutting edge of the trend toward Country-Pop instead of more strict, old-school Country.

With only ten songs, It's Your Call occupies a pretty pathetic 35:02 on compact disc. In addition to offering very little value to the c.d. buyer for use relative to the capacity of the compact disc, It's Your Call is hardly the creative endeavor of Reba McEntire one might hope. To her credit, McEntire performs all of the lead vocals, though on "The Heart Won't Lie," she has a duet with Vince Gill. McEntire is credited as a co-writer only on "For Herself" and she is a co-producer on the album. Still, McEntire does not play any of the musical instruments on the album and the sound is so familiar that it comes across as a more generic Country than anything distinctive.

Indeed, with the instrumental accompaniment, Reba McEntire seems to have a real Country album on her hands with It's Your Call. But the more I listened to the album, the more ambivalent I became to the work. While the pedal steel is a dominant musical instrument throughout the album, the songs also use pretty heavy guitars and pianos. The songs tend to keep a very dancable Country beat and this is certainly a more energetic Reba McEntire album (a departure for me as I had mostly heard her ballads up until now). But songs that seem most instrumentally rich also seem the most derivative. For example, "Take It Back" sounds like classic Bonnie Raitt with its use of saxophones and a pretty complete guitar/bass/piano/drums backing.

Similarly, "Baby's Gone Blues" is mellow, but the melody sounds ridiculously familiar (it's a tune by The Beatles slowed down and it's right outside my memory . . .). When the album is not presenting raucous, line-dancing Country music tunes, it is presenting simple melodies that are simple and seem familiar or forgettable.

What isn't disappointing at all are the vocals of Reba McEntire. McEntire provides the lead vocals for each song and she has a great alto voice. On "Baby's Gone Blues," she is soulful and sad, while on "It's Your Call" and "Take It Back," she is full of powerful-woman sass. McEntire sings clearly and except on a few instances where the instrumentals are produced in such a way that they overwhelm her vocals, she can be heard on all of her songs. Indeed, on songs like "The Heart Won't Lie," she manages to use her voice to overwhelm the crescendo of the instrumental accompaniment!

As for the content of It's Your Call, the album is preoccupied with breakups and abandonments, physical and emotional. Despite "He Wants To Get Married," the bulk of this album is about relationships ending. Reba presents the songs which are an embodiment of her tough woman stage persona. As a result, instead of whining about abandonment, she presents lines like "Somehow she always knew she had the strength inside / And even if she fell she'd survive / In spite of all the tears she may cry / This is how she has to live her life" ("For Herself"). The message is that of one of survival and strength, as opposed to emotional self-destruction and this is definitely one of the positive defining aspects of Country music, at least for the female artists.

What's more, on this album Reba McEntire presents some of her storysongs with a decent sense of irony. She sings "It's your call, it's her / Would you rather take it in the other room / She's hanging on and so am I / Yeah, I know all about it, don't act so surprised / It's time to end this game you're playing / She's not the only one who's waiting on the line / It's your call, it's up to you / And I won't try to stop you if you want to go" ("It's Your Call") with a tongue in cheek inflection and she has the ability to make her song seem like it is toying with the listener and the musical antagonist at the same time. This, at the very least, makes the album very easy to listen to and to enjoy.

And while Reba McEntire is able to present some wonderful lines that are easy to empathize with, it is hard for all of them to be winners. So, while I might argue that "Baby's Gone Blues" is the superlative track on the album, it is hard to argue that the lines "I feel the blues coming on / Cause I feel you being gone / It's something I wish I could lose / Baby's gone blues / There ain't no sunshine in sight / Cause you're gonna leave me tonight" are masterful whatwith their very predictable rhyme scheme.

That said, the album suffers most because the portion is so small. Despite sounding overproduced on some tracks or having inane rhymes, the duration of the album makes one feel cheated, especially on compact disc. If this were combined with another album from the time on a single disc, it might be a value. But on its own, It's Your Call is too tough a sell.

The best track is "Baby's Gone Blues," the low point is the dramatically overproduced "Will He Ever Go Away."

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


For other album reviews, please visit my index page!

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

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