Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reba McEntire Spreads Her Wings For My Broken Heart Rather Successfully!

The Good: Generally good lyrics, Voice, Mood of the album
The Bad: Dreadfully short, Instrumentally predictable
The Basics: A very average pop-Country album, For My Broken Heart is a good example of McEntire's vocal talents, even if it is unsurprising.

Reba McEntire's works have taken a bit of flack from me, mostly for the fact that they are largely performed by McEntire and not actually the artistic creations of the Country music superstar. So, it seems like every time she has an album where she is involved in any way with the creation of the music, I get excited. Such is the case for the early 80's Country-pop album For My Broken Heart, which has a single song ("Bobby") that McEntire co-wrote. In her considerable arsenal of performances, For My Broken Heart contains songs which are very standard for McEntire, but somehow the mix manages to come together better than most. As well, having heard several Reba McEntire compilations, For My Broken Heart's best songs are not necessarily on them.

That said, For My Broken Heart is a very typical early 90s pop-Country album. By this point in her career, McEntire was effectively straddling the lines between pop and Country and was one of the foremost musical ambassadors pushing Country toward a sound that was less like Patsy Cline and more like The Bangles. It's easy, listening to For My Broken Heart to hear how Shania Twain would naturally explode within the community . . . McEntire softened up her market for her.

Still, with only ten songs and a running time of 36:57, For My Broken Heart is a very short album, regardless of the genre. Reba McEntire's creative control was limited, though she provided all of the lead vocals, co-wrote one song and was a co-producer for the album. She was not, however, involved in writing 90% of the songs and played no musical instruments on the album. Even so, given McEntire's popularity and status - even by this point in her career - it seems like she was making the music she wanted to create and that she was choosing the songs she was going to perform, so this is her intended sound and album, one suspects.

Instrumentally, that means a Country music album which is heavy in electric guitars and keyboards. Yes, this is a pop-Country, almost a pop-rock album. If there were ever to be a pop-rock version of "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia", then McEntire's version on For My Broken Heart would certainly be it! The album is made up primarily of energetic-sounding songs, most of which are about the loss of love and missing people. McEntire's consistent musical protagonist on this album is one who has been left behind.

Even so, the album also is heavy in ballads, like "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" and the title track. On those keyboard-driven songs, McEntire is meant to sound like a pop diva on the order of Barbra Streisand and she succeeds. Reba McEntire's instrumental backing sounds like Streisand's orchestral backing on several pieces, though the infrequent use of the steel guitar and fiddles does set McEntire apart.

Also what sets Reba McEntire apart is her vocal range. While most female performers try to showboat by seeing just how high they can go in the soprano range, Reba McEntire rules the alto register. Not trying to be the next Ella Fitzgerald or Celine Dion, McEntire is comfortable in the lower ranges which make her sound more soulful and intense. On songs like "Is There Life Out There", she has an energetic Country twang in her voice which makes her distinct and her voice one of the unique ones of our generation. Moreover, she has a clarity to her vocalizations which is intense, beautiful and entirely penetrating on ballads like "If I Had Only Known." Even so, For My Broken Heart is more a study of what is expected of Reba McEntire than a defiance of it. Vocally, this is Reba McEntire at a wonderful performance ability, but she's been there for quite a while.

That said, For My Broken Heart succeeds because the song lyrics and themes are strong. This is a concept album, of sorts, with McEntire working through her feelings of loss from death and abandonment. Songs like "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" and "If I Had Only Known" explore the universality of being left and having no ability to connect with the departed person. So, when McEntire sings "If I had only known / I'd never hear your voice again / I'd memorize each thing you ever said / And on those lonely nights / I could think of them once more / Keep your words alive inside my head . . ." ("If I Had Only Known"), anyone who has ever had lingering issues with a person who has died is likely to choke right up. McEntire's presentation of the poetic words have that potent an effect on the listener.

And, largely, "For My Broken Heart" is musical storysongs in more of a folk/Country tradition than the pop sound the album has. Songs on this album tend to have musical protagonists who have an obstacle, do something about it and explore the consequences. As such, songs like "He's In Dallas" tell complete musical stories with lines like "I'm staring out the window through these teardrops / Holding on to the only dream that turned out right / We're on a Greyhound bus bound for West Virginia / He's in Dallas without us tonight." McEntire's style works well for musical storysongs and one suspects in a different time or place, she would have been a premiere folk singer.

That said, not all of the lines are gold on For My Broken Heart. On "Buying Her Roses," the rhymes are obvious as McEntire is compelled to perform lines that end with rhymes like blame/flame, me/see, knows/goes, and fight/right. The saving grace for McEntire is that she did not write the lyrics and as a result, she cannot be blamed for the more mediocre lines she sings. And, honestly, none of the songs are truly bad from a poetics perspective.

But For My Broken Heart is a good collection with a ridiculously small portion and as such, it replays sounding a lot more mediocre than the first few listens. But most fans of pop or Country will find enough to enjoy to make this worth picking up!

The best song is "If I Had Only Known," the low point is "Buying Her Roses."

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
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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