Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reba McEntire Returns To Country With What If It's You.

The Good: Decent vocals, Good Country-rock sound
The Bad: Short, Moments of vocal overproduction
The Basics: A fun album, What If It’s You is an energetic presentation of Country-rock with Reba McEntire presenting a very fun side of her music.

Reba McEntire was not, in any way, a disappointing choice for a musical Artist Of The Month; but McEntire’s works have ebbs and flows which are very static. In other words, it takes a lot for McEntire to get out of one rut and move her music in a different direction. In the 1980s to the early 90s, she worked more and more from Country to pop and in that part of her career, the albums are frequently repetitive in nature and disappointingly bland with little differentiation between them. If one were to put them on a single playlist, there are about six albums which would all sound like they were a single album.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when I put What If It’s You in and began listening to it on heavy replay. The album is different from McEntire’s other works, especially from the period I had been listening to. More dramatic in its sound, What If It’s You has McEntire singing more like a Country performer, but backed with traditionally pop-rock instruments. The irony, though, is that McEntire makes the album sound like it is classic Country, just a bigger, louder version of it and, truth be told, she make makes it work. What If It’s You sounds good, replays well and is a decent pop-Country album, even if it has some problems.

With only ten songs arguably the greatest disappointment of What If It’s You is the short running time of 35:50. Like most Reba McEntire albums, McEntire was not involved in the writing of any of the tracks. As well, she does not play any musical instruments on the album. What she does do is sing all of the lead vocals co-produce the album. At this point, McEntire was selecting her own material and presenting the record company with her albums, so it is very much what she wanted to present that makes the cut.

What If It’s You is an actually fun album from Reba McEntire. If the 1980s were a time when she was singing about loss and love leaving and the like, the mid-90s (at least on What If It’s You) are about having fun after it all. What If It’s You is upbeat, uptempo and songs like “I’d Rather Ride Around With You” have a Country good-time feel of just breaking loose. While the album is not exactly line dance material, the genre is clearly Country and this is a Country dance album (Country-pop) with a notable absence of soft, moody ballads.

The album is dominated instrumentally by guitars, electric and steel and a stronger rhythm section than any of McEntire’s prior albums. What If It’s You has ten string-driven songs which combine guitar, keyboards and bass with percussion the way most bands combine guitar, bass and drums. The result are upbeat Country-pop numbers like “State Of Grace” which sound lyrically like Country songs, but have a pop-rock backing that makes it accessible to anyone who likes energetic music.

But “State Of Grace” also caught my attention because it did something I have not noticed on any other Reba McEntire albums: McEntire’s voice has a produced quality at moments. While there is an obvious voice shift for the effect when the musical protagonist gets on the intercom at work, her voice seems to have more noticeable production employed to clean up the sound of her voice. On other albums, she inhales occasionally or the notes sound like they are coming from a real voice. But on most of the tracks on What If It’s You, there is a flawless quality to the vocals which seems unnatural and produced. McEntire’s voice competes unnaturally with the heavy percussion on “Close To Crazy.” Even so, this is nowhere near as bad as, for example, a Britney Spears album where the singer sounds robotic. Instead, McEntire’s contralto voice breaks through more often than not, but there are moments when it sounds like it has help.

Lyrically, What If It’s You follows very traditional Country themes. McEntire has a very traditional notion of romance on What If It’s You in a Judeo-Christian sense. She sings about love as if it can be an absolute when she explores the ridiculous quality of young love on “She’s Callin’ It Love.” Most of her songs have a musical protagonist and a little message, like “Daddy knows his baby’s headed for a heartache / And that part of growin’ up is learning from mistakes / But he can’t let her go / ‘Cause he knows / That boy’s nothin’ but bad news” (“She’s Callin’ It Love”). You can almost hear the shotgun loading for the wedding. Lyrically, the song has very traditional notions of family and Country.

Even so, I found myself appreciating the irony of McEntire subtly undermining that. With “State Of Grace,” she presents a musical protagonist who is a Walmart worker who abruptly quits so she’s no longer wasting her life. One wonders how many Walmart workers find themselves late at night humming and singing “Attention late night shoppers / A two for one on broken chains” (“State Of Grace”). The song is a carpe diem anthem and it is actually refreshing to hear such an enlightened country version.

Ultimately, there is little surprise to the fact that such a vision comes from Reba McEntire. McEntire has been known to champion social causes and sing about child abuse and women being strong and independent. On What If It’s You, McEntire seems to be declaring that part of that whole paradigm is breaking loose and having fun. It’s about time.

The best song is “I’d Rather Ride Around With You,” the low point is “Never Had A Reason To.”

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
For My Broken Heart
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume Two
Read My Mind
Starting Over
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!

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

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