Friday, January 21, 2011

Very Bland Country-Gospel, Heart To Heart Is Shorter Than It Is Actually Bad.

The Good: Nothing truly bad on the album
The Bad: Short, Nothing superlative on the album.
The Basics: Average-at-best, the short, repetitive Heart To Heart by Reba McEntire replays poorly for listeners.

When a listener doesn’t care about what they are hearing, it’s a real tough sell regardless of the efforts of the performer. I go into every new musical experience with as much of an open mind as I can, yet once I hear the basic groove of an artist, I start looking for something new. Unfortunately, as I work my way through the discography of Reba McEntire, there is an unfortunate repetitive quality to the sound of her early works. That makes it very difficult to get excited about her next album because, so far, they have sounded like the prior ones. This is certainly the case with McEntire’s Heart To Heart, her 1981 Country music outing which helped cement her in the hearts and minds of Country listeners.

Here I am at something of a loss as to why. The reason for this is not out of cruelty to the performer but something between boredom with the overproduced and limited musical accompaniment to her vocals and astonishment that she was still considered “Country” at this point in her career. Heart To Heart is a Country-Gospel album which has songs that are undeniably pop, most notably “Who?,” which sounds like it could have come from Amy Grant about a decade after McEntire released this album.

With only ten songs occupying only 28:54, Heart To Heart is hardly the creative endeavor one might think of coming from Reba McEntire . . . unless one has bothered to look over her body of works and realized that McEntire is more frequently a performer than she is an actual musical artist. As such, Reba McEntire only provides the lead vocals on Heart To Heart. She does not play any musical instruments, nor was she involved in the writing of any of the songs. As well, she was not involved in the production of the album. And if this seems familiar as a reader of my reviews, imagine how familiar it feels as a listener to McEntire’s music.

By this point in her career, listeners ought to have been starved for something different and demanding something more creative from Reba McEntire. Instead, Heart To Heart features a very bland, overproduced good-time Country feel. While almost all of the songs are Country ballads with a little more percussion to them than usual, the album is only broken up from a sense of musical monotony from “Only You (And You Alone).” McEntire’s cover of the song made famous by The Platters is recognizable more than it is incredible in her rendition, but it has the benefit of not sounding like any of the other songs on Heart To Heart.

That said, Heart To Heart sounds like a very produced, mellow Country album more in the classic Country tradition than the pop-Country songs that came in the later 80s and early 90s. But mixed in with more classic-sounding songs like “Gonna Love Ya (Till The Cows Come Home)” and “How Does It Feel To Be Free,” there are more poppy songs like “Indelibly Blue” and “Who?” The differences in the tracks actually comes from the percussion. The more traditional Country songs have more subtle drumming, while the more poppy songs employ more drums.

Outside the upbeat piano of “Ease The Fever,” most of the other recognizable instrumental accompaniments come in the form of stringed instruments and the steel guitar. “Ease The Fever” actually has a more Gospel sound to it than Country, up to and including having McEntire accompanied by a male vocalist who has deep bass as his range. The rest of the songs have guitar and string sections which sound more like accompaniment to Conway Twitty than Shania Twain. There is an old passion that is played out in the instrumental accompaniment that evokes grand images of the plains, but the problem with Heart To Heart is that almost all of the songs are presented with the same emotional resonance and as a result, after about five listens, the songs blend together into a generic Country elevator music vibe.

What is superlative on Heart To Heart are the vocals. No matter how many albums Reba McEntire is involved in, it is hard to tire of her voice. She sings in a clear alto voice which allows her to place genuine emphasis on the lyrical statements she is trying to make (even if they are not her own, original thoughts she is singing). On songs like “How Does It Feel To Be Free,” she works herself into a soprano register, all the while illustrating amazing lung control to stretch her notes out with a passion she sings immaculately with.

And most of the songs on Heart To Heart are about love or the loss of love. In fact, in addition to being instrumentally monotonous, the vocals might be good, but because all of the songs tend to be about love, her statements blend together with the same amorphous quality as the musical accompaniment. After several listens, the only song that truly stands out from the lyrics is “Small Two-Bedroom Starter.” On that song, Reba McEntire presents a musical storysong about a house and the couple that moved in there. The song actually has almost a Folk sound to it when McEntire sings the lines “Bought by the high school teacher / Sold it to a Baptist preacher / Who couldn’t pay his taxes because his flock had gone astray / So the banker fenced the yard in / Planted trees and half a garden / A man from Dallas kept it up, until he moved away” (“Small Two-Bedroom Starter”).

The rest of the songs are more focused on the emotion of love or how wrong it feels when love is taken away. McEntire sings credibly about the emotion, but most of the lines employ predictable rhymes and are terrible repetitive. As a result, this holds up poorly over multiple listens. The lack of replayability is what ultimately sunk this otherwise mediocre album for me. When I buy a c.d., I want to be able to listen to it and feel consistently engaged by it. This just became background music for my tenure of listening to it way too quickly.

The best song is “Small Two-Bedroom Starter,” the low point is “Love By Love.”

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
Feel The Fire
Just A Little Love
The Best Of Reba McEntire
Whoever’s In New England
Sweet Sixteen
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 where you will find organized lists of all albums I have reviewed!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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