The Good: Decent vocals, Catchy instrumental accompaniment, Some lyrics
The Bad: Relatively short, Predictable rhymes, Few songs that stand out.
The Basics: An exceptionally average musical experience, Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor by Reba McEntire is a fairly bland collection of ballads more pop than Country.
After almost a year of marriage, my wife had put up with a lot of music playing in our small apartment that she has not necessarily enjoyed as I work to enrich myself through musical education. So, as 2010 arrived, I decided to start it off on the right foot with her by selecting an Artist Of The Month I knew she would enjoy. As a result, I've been listening to a couple of Reba McEntire albums and I opened my January 2010 Artist Of The Month exploration, atypically enough, with a compilation album. Reba (along the way she attained the one-named status that allowed her to drop "McEntire" from the album names, which makes me wonder where she is found in music stores . . .) Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor is where I started my exploration of Reba's works. Despite my posting the review of Reba’s Christmas compilation (here!) first, this was actually the first Reba album I listened to.
It's also where I got the first jolt of the month. Reba McEntire may be an artist, but during the timeperiod (1990s) encapsulated on Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor, she is merely a performer. This surprised me because my wife - and all others I've heard speak of Reba - seem quite enamored with her as a creative talent. On this album, though, she is merely one who performs the words of others. The album is also a tough sell for me as a listener who has not heard any of these songs before now (though I'm on my eighth listen to the album) in that none of them truly sound exceptionally distinct or incredible in a way that make me see the full range of talent listeners have seen to make Reba a Country music diva.
With fifteen tracks clocking out at 56:30, Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor does not utilize the full range of the compact disc medium especially well. Instead, this has fifteen Country-pop songs that are performed by Reba McEntire. Reba provides the primary vocals on all of the tracks. She does not, however, play any musical instruments on the album, though she is credited with co-producing thirteen of the songs. What was even more astonishing to me is that Reba did not write or co-write or arrange any of the songs on this album. Instead, this compilation is a collection of songs where Reba McEntire is a mouthpiece for other, more musically creative, individuals.
That said, Reba, in this phase of her career seems to be a part of the pop-country phase that was made possible by Billy Ray Cyrus and popularized subsequently by Shania Twain. Songs like "Falling Out Of Love" sound remarkably like Celine Dion's The Power Of Love, despite the completely different register the two work in. The reason for this is the instrumentation and production elements of the album. "She Thinks His Name Was John" actually opens with a melody that sounds remarkably like "My Heart Will Go On" (Reba beat Dion to the melody, though!). Either way, the heavy orchestral backing on almost all of these songs creates a collection of ballads that is only marginally Country. In fact, it's a stretch to call any of this Country.
With the blurring of the lines between pop-rock and Country in recent years, if the singer does not perform with a twang, the pedal steel is not one of the primary instruments, nor do they sing about god, the West, the South, or obvious Americana, it's hard to say they are Country at all. As a result, the only song on Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor is "The Fear Of Being Alone." The rest of the album is a collection of light-pop ballads and when viewed through that lens, it is good, but very average. The instrumentation is primarily guitar, bass and drums, though the piano creates a more melodic and grand emotional bassline on tracks like "Falling Out Of Love" and "And Still." The only upbeat songs are "The Fear Of Being Alone," "Why Haven't I Heard From You," "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" and the refrain on "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia." Outside those songs, the album is slower, more contemplative and places more emphasis on the lyrics.
As for the vocals, Reba McEntire performs mostly in the alto range, so she is a bit lower than many female artists I like vocally. This gives her a grittier sound on "Why Haven't I Heard From You," which passes well for sass. She only occasionally goes higher, instead letting background vocalists take the higher ranges. She harmonizes exceptionally well with Brooks & Dunn on "If You See Him, If You See Her" (who actually sound like George Strait, at least as he did at last year's CMAs, which I ended up watching with my wife) and Vince Gill on "The Heart Won't Lie." McEntire's vocals are articulate, clear and melodic. It is easy to understand everything she sings, even on the first listen. Emotionally, most of the songs are filled with longing, though she jumps to sassy on songs like "One Honest Heart," but even there, her vocals sound remarkably like a 1980s pop star (I'm stretching to figure which one).
As for the lyrics, Reba McEntire gets off to a bad start for my month because songs that sound ridiculously personal turn out to be written by talented writers who use Reba as a mouthpiece (much like how Tina Turner's writers use her for statements that sound like they come from her life). Chief among these is "I'm A Survivor," which opens Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor. On that songs, McEntire sings "I don't believe in self-pity / It only brings you down / May be the queen of broken hearts / But I don't hide behind the crown / When the deck is stacked against me / I just play a different game / My roots are planted in the past / And though my life is changin' fast / Who I am is who I wanna be" ("I'm A Survivor") and the listener feels like she is singing her autobiography, but it's just a well-written character-driven song by Shelby Kennedy and Phillip White. Despite that, she presents the song well.
Similarly, on "Myself Without You," McEntire presents a strong female voice about a woman getting through abandonment (it seems to be a common theme on the songs on this album). And the message of her songs is decent. With lines like "I can even see myself / Falling in love with somebody else / Ready to take that chance again / 'Cause I know now / What I didn't know then . . . But I learned to love myself / Without you" ("Myself Without You") McEntire encourages listeners not to mope through loss and instead stand up for who they are and what they love and feel.
Even so, not all of the song choices are exceptional in the lyrics department. McEntire does a Kenny Rogers cover with rather obvious rhymes. With the lines "You touched my soul with your beautiful song / You even had me singin' along / Right with you / You said I need you" ("Sweet Music Man") McEntire sounds simplistic and somewhat obvious, though she does make the song sound good.
That said, with only three original songs on this album, I found myself underwhelmed and figuring that the albums most of these songs were culled from might offer listeners more. Maybe not, but as I begin my musical exploration of Reba McEntire, Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor does not exactly bowl me over as exceptional music, whether it be Country or pop.
The best song is "And Still," the low point is the unmemorable "The Heart Won't Lie." A very average album.
For other former Artist of The Month artists, please check out my reviews of:
Tina Turner – Break Every Rule
Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers
Joan Baez – Any Day Now
For other music reviews, my index page has organized listings!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.