Saturday, March 5, 2011

All Isn't Right In The Heartland: So Good Together Is A Depressing Reba McEntire Album.

The Good: Good vocals, Decent sound (if monotonous and overproduced), Thematically unified
The Bad: Short, Depressing, Overproduced
The Basics: Wholly depressing, but not disappointing, album, Reba McEntire makes a collection of songs about loss with So Good Together.

Having listened to the bulk of Reba McEntire's albums, I feel quite confident in saying that if one was going to take their life to a Reba McEntire album, So Good Together is the one to do it by. This may seem a strange opening, especially for an album that sounds so upbeat, but after nine listens to this album, I'm pretty much ready to kill myself. So Good Together is a deceptive album in that it sounds like it is uptempo and fun, but lyrically, this is a terribly depressing album. In fact, this is almost monotonously depressing in its content and listeners are likely to come away from this album wanting to do pretty much anything but go to a Reba McEntire concert.

Thematically, So Good Together is unified by songs that are generally about death, divorce, abandonment and heartbreak. And if it weren't for the fact that the album comes together so well and is so wholly depressing, this would be an easy album to pan. But for those looking for an album to either put them into a dismal mood or to keep them in one, this is a great Country-pop album to do that with.

With twelve songs taking up 46:37, So Good Together is a shockingly depressing choice of songs performed by Reba McEntire. McEntire did not write any of the songs and she is credited as one of four co-producers on the album. So how much creative control or influence she had over the ultimate album is up in the air. Even so, McEntire performs all of the lead vocals - though "We're All Alone" is a duet with Josey y Durval - and she was responsible for choosing all of the songs on the album. As per her usual, McEntire does not play any of the musical instruments on the album. Still, this does appear to be the collection if musical statements McEntire wanted to make, even if it is wholly depressing.

Instrumentally, So Good Together sounds like a very traditional pop-rock album. The album is dominated by guitars, keyboards and percussion and is one of McEntire's louder, more produced outings. Songs like "Where You End And I Begin" only sound remotely "Country" from the vocals of Reba McEntire. For the rest of the album, it is almost surprising that So Good Together wasn't a huge crossover success for McEntire. Songs like "I'll Be" and "She Wasn't Good Enough For Him" sound like pop songs with their keyboards, drums and (in the latter case) mellow, ballad sound. Even the songs that employ the steel guitar, as "Nobody Dies From A Broken Heart" seems to, do not sound particularly less like pop-rock than Country. In fact, So Good Together is the first Reba McEntire album I've found where the instrumentation includes "guitar overdub." This, no doubt, is a production element or sample and it fits the overall sound of the album as this is a very produced album.

Sadly, this goes for the vocals of Reba McEntire as well. McEntire sounds like any number of other artists (Gloria Estefan on "We're All Alone," for example) and while some of the songs have something that might pass for spunk, there is none of McEntire's trademark twang on any of her vocals. She exhibits exceptional lung capacity on songs like "We're All Alone," but for the most part, she spends the album safely in her alto register. Even so, because the lyrics on So Good Together are so important, McEntire's vocals are presented with crystal clarity and given how depressing the songs are, it's hard to decide whether or not that's a good thing. I'd have to say it is because as the vocalist, McEntire has something to say and she's the one responsible for making sure her message gets across.

But So Good Together is almost homogeneously depressing. McEntire sings with heartfelt passion about divorce on "Back Before The War." On that song, she poetically sings "Stacks of paper, my name in bold print / Yours right besides it on this document / Too many lawyers, too many angry words / So much we didn't say, so much we never heard / Do you remember / When I was all that you were living for / Back before the war / Back before the broken vows / The shattered trust, this empty house / When nothing really mattered but us / Back before we climbed too high / My dreams were yours, your dreams were mine" ("Back Before The War") and anyone who has ever gone through a divorce knows exactly what she's talking about. McEntire is a convincing musical narrator on the song and she makes the song appropriately painful and difficult.

Actually, what is most impressive about So Good Together is that the songs are complicated, in one form or another. While songs like "We're So Good Together" might sound noisy with their overproduced instrumentals for the guitars and drums, other songs are far more poignant and piercing. In fact, McEntire is vocally penetrating with her musical storysong "What Do You Say." With lines like "Seventeen years old / She was out with her friends / They started drinking at some party / Till she was three sheets to the wind / Her momma always told her she could call no matter what / She was crying on the front steps / When her mom showed up / So what do you say in a moment like this" ("What Do You Say") McEntire poses questions that do not have necessarily easy answers and makes them musical!

But for those are looking for cheerful, So Good Together isn't the album. Even the closest to a genuine love song, "'Til I Said It To You" is thoroughly depressing if one listens to the actual lines. McEntire mournfully presents the lyrics "Love is a dangerous door to open / If you don't feel it when it's spoken / Sometimes I said it when I really didn't mean it / Just to throw away a promise I knew wasn't true / It meant a little less to me everytime I did it / But I never said I love you from the heart / Til I said it to you" ("'Til I Said It To You") and the listener is left with the reasonable question, "How can we believe this musical protagonist is now telling the truth?!"

Ultimately, So Good Together is likely to leave the listener feeling empty and it does an exceptional job at that. For those looking for a depressing pop-rock album with minor Country undertones, this is the album for you!

The best track is "Back Before The War," the low point is "I'll Be."

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
What If It's You
If You See Him
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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