Monday, February 7, 2011

How Can You Tell When Reba McEntire Is Doing A Cover Album? Starting Over

The Good: Good song selection, Generally sounds good
The Bad: Short, No exceptional reinterpretations, Instrumentally overproduced
The Basics: A very average collection of cover songs, Starting Over is a very blasé musical outing by Reba McEntire.

Reba McEntire has any number of talents as a performer, but as January came to a close on my Artist Of The Month, I found myself less and less impressed with the concept of Reba McEntire as an artist. After all, McEntire writes very little of her own material and she does not play any instruments. So, she is very much a product of her raw vocal talent and the studios which put her with decent material, classic and contemporary. And while McEntire is a prolific performer, many of her albums lack distinction and listening to different portions of her career, there are few superlative songs at points because the songs blend together as similarly executed auditory experiences. So, when I popped in Starting Over, I had no expectations that it would stand out in any way.

Yet, it did, but not because of Reba McEntire. As one who is not a fan of Country music, my monthlong exploration of Reba McEntire’s music has been introducing me to quite a bit of new-to-me music, even if it is well-known to fans of classic Country. But in the case of Starting Over, an album of Reba McEntire covers of pop and Country songs from 1962 – 1995, I actually new several of the songs from before my first listen to this album. While familiarity might seem to be a decent selling point for one who is not necessarily a fan of Reba McEntire, “Starting Over” falters because of its familiarity; Reba McEntire does not reinterpret any of the songs in any way that one might consider the reinterpretations in any way extraordinary. None of the songs on this album become quintessential McEntire songs . . . they merely tend to remind the listener of the originals.

With only ten songs taking up 41:53, Starting Over is a more obvious collection of cover songs which McEntire credits as influencing her as an artist and performer. Recognizable pop standards like “On My Own” mix with classic folk songs like "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home” to be presented by Reba McEntire. And while McEntire presents her incredible vocals on each and every song, she does not play any of the instruments and she did not write any of the material. McEntire did select all of the songs and she is credited as one of the album’s co-producers. Even so, there is little creativity on the part of Reba McEntire exhibited here.

The main strike against Starting Over is the boring quality to the instrumental accompaniment. Dominated by guitars and keyboards, the songs on the album have a very generic pop ballad quality to them. In fact, any of these songs sounds like they would appropriately be played over the closing credits to a late 1980s Рmid 1990s romantic comedy. The style of instrumental accompaniment is a flawless, overproduced sound which is similar to muzak or elevator music and while I enjoy vocally-driven albums, music where the instrumental accompaniment is so bland is disturbing. As well, all of the songs I knew Рover half the songs on the album Рsound like they do from other artists or performers. In other words, Reba McEntire was not looking to radically reinterpret any of the songs on this album and as such, the instrumental accompaniment is utterly predictable and blas̩.

As well, fans of Reba McEntire’s Country roots are likely to find that Starting Over is an album that betrays their sensibilities. Songs like “You're No Good” (popularized by Linda Rondstadt) sound very much like the original and McEntire uses very few of the Country music instrumental conceits on the album. While the steel guitar is present, after a dozen listens to Starting Over, I still can't pick it out on any track, nor can I find the credited fiddle. But the saxophone is obvious on the tracks that appears on and so is the electric guitar, which makes songs like “You're No Good” sound like traditional pop-rock. This entire album sounds poppy.

Unfortunately for fans of McEntire’s Country music roots, vocally McEntire seems to be going for a very true-to-the-original presentations. This means, McEntire loses her country twang on every song, save “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands.” The vocals are all safely delivered from McEntire’s trademark alto voice and she stays within that range, relying on guest vocalists on “On My Own” to provide the song with vocalizations that go higher. While McEntire has a great, solid lower sound on songs like “You're No Good,” she does not go higher for songs like “Five Hundred Miles Away From Home,” which I've heard more familiarly performed by sopranos. This does not mean McEntire’s vocals are in any way bad (they are not), but the album is more mundane than it is extraordinary in any way.

Even so, Starting Over employs some decent song choices for Reba McEntire. McEntire has sufficient spunk to be credible performing “You're No Good” and “You Keep Me Hanging On,” even if she does nothing new with them. She manages to break the formulaic nature of some of the love/loss anthems through choices of good musical storysongs, like “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” with its lines like “By the time I make Oklahoma he'll be sleepin’ / He'll turn softly and call my name out low / And he'll cry just to think I'd really leave him / Though time and time I've tried to tell him so / Oh, he just didn't know / I would really go.” The song has a great sense of movement and McEntire is an articulate and clear musical storyteller.

Still, many of the songs are hampered by conceits that even McEntire cannot make sound new or original. Almost all of the songs are about love or loss and McEntire is compelled to sing some pretty tired rhymes as a result of going back as far as she does. So, when she sings “As pure as my gown of white I stood by his side / And promised that I'd love you till the day I died / Lord, please forgive me even though I lied / ‘Cause You're the only one who know just how hard I tried” (“Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands”) the rhymes sound old and the tense slips are problematic. Generally, the rhymes sound more classic than new and unoriginal, so the album is not a complete wash on that front.

Ultimately, though, Starting Over is an incredibly average musical experience and Reba McEntire might be happy to credit those who inspired her, but as a fan of all sorts of music, I found myself wanting more. I wanted to hear, not Reba McEntire singing her favorite old songs, but rather, Reba McEntire takes songs that inspired her and makes them her own to inspire the next generation of musical artists. Sadly, this is not that album.

The best song is “You're No Good,” the low point is “I Won't Mention It Again.”

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
Feel The Fire
Heart To Heart
Just A Little Love
Have I Got A Deal For You
The Best Of Reba McEntire
Whoever’s In New England
What Am I Gonna Do About You
Sweet Sixteen
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume Two
Read My Mind
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!

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

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