Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Reba #1's Can Be Passed By (Easily!)

The Good: Good vocals, Decent duration
The Bad: Instrumental accompaniment becomes very bland, Virtually identical to a subsequent compilation!
The Basics: A disappointing musical anthology, Reba #1's might have been fine at the time, but now lives in the shadows of the nearly identical (but superior) 50 Greatest Hits.

As my study of Reba McEntire's music came to an end, I found myself mired in a few final compilation albums. The first one is Reba #1's and it is a two-disc set that I will probably not muster up a lot of energy to bother writing about. The reason is simple: even before my first listen, I had serious doubts that I would recommend the album. Instead, because the two collections came in at the same time, I marveled at the similarities between Reba #1's and 50 Greatest Hits by Reba McEntire. Reba #1's is a thirty-five track collection, spread out over two compact discs, whereas 50 Greatest Hits, as the name suggests, has fifty songs, on three c.d.s. And while Reba #1's was produced with the speculation that McEntire's magic would work on the two new singles (it didn't), 50 Greatest Hits is true to its word with #1 chart toppers as well as fan-favorite songs. Heck, #1's doesn't even have ìFancy!î

Reba #1's is a career-retrospective, at least up until 2005. The two-disc set is designed to represent the chart-topping Reba McEntire songs that made her a superstar and it is adequate in that regard. But for those looking for this type of career retrospective, 50 Greatest Hits, which came out only two years later, continues to offer a more enduring value in that it is a more complete collection of Reba McEntire songs. All Reba's #1's offers that the other collection does not have are four songs: the two new tracks, "You're Gonna Be" and "Love Needs A Holiday" and McEntire's first two Country #1's from the early 1980s, "Can't Even Get The Blues" and "You're The First Time I Thought About Leaving." Most fans of Reba McEntire, as well as scholars of her works, will find the two new songs may easily be passed by and the other two would willingly be traded for the extra disc in 50 Greatest Hits.

With just over two hours of songs on the two discs, Reba #1's is a good example of Reba McEntire's commercial works as well as the methods she used to catapult herself to stardom. A performer primarily, McEntire was not involved in writing any of her hit songs from this collection. Instead, she is the primary vocalist on all of them - though she does share that duty with Vince Gill on "The Heart Won't Lie" and Linda Davis on "Does He Love You." She does not play any of the instruments on the album and she is a co-producer of her later songs, but not her earlier ones. Reba #1's features the studio album cuts of all thirty-three of her #1 charting hits, along with the two new tracks.

For those who have not heard Reba McEntire's music - or read any of my reviews of her albums - McEntire's career developed from a classic Country/Gospel tradition into the pop-Country songs that became popular in the mid to late 1990s. As such, songs like "Can't Even Get the Blues" and "You're the First Time I've Thought About Leaving" have a Patsy Cline vibe to them with slower vocals and very mild instrumental accompaniment, but later hits like "The Fear Of Being Alone" and "I'm A Survivor" are more up-tempo, electric guitar driven and have little differentiation from pop-rock songs only a decade prior. The instrumental accompaniment varies from the Country pedal steel and fiddles to later keyboards and electric guitars. Indeed, the string and keyboard-driven ballad "Forever Love" sounds more like a Celine Dion song with the instrumental accompaniment than even a Shania Twain (whose sound was hardly Country at all!).

Vocally, Reba McEntire's number ones casts McEntire as a vocal performer, as one might suspect. The instrumental accompaniment, save on the bridges of songs like "If You See Him / If You See Her," is seldom boisterous enough to drown out McEntire. Instead, McEntire sings her lyrics clearly and strongly and in the alto register. She is one of the few vocalists who works in the alto register and for her number one hits, she tends to stay very safe within that range. But what McEntire might appear to lack in range, she more than makes up for in other attributes. She sings with spunk on "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter," with clarity despite the speed on "Little Rock" and with heartwrenching soul on "The Greatest Man I Never Knew."

But fans can easily pass this one by because the two new songs are hardly McEntire's greatest vocal or lyrical outings. While McEntire is a gifted vocalist for most musical storysongs, the limited rhymes like "Sometimes I'll protect you from everything that's wrong / Other times I'll let you just find out on your own / But that's when you'll be growin', / And the whole time I'll be knowin . . .Sometimes life's not fair, but if you hang in there / You're gonna see that sometimes bad is good / We just have to believe things work out like they should / Life has no guarantees, but always loved by me / You're gonna be" ("You're Gonna Be") are not redeemed even by her voice. Instead, the song has a singsong rhyme scheme that makes it unsurprising it did not rise to the top of any chart. Still, it is decent that McEntire sings about things other than simply love and loss.

And yet, for her other unique-to-this-album song, "Love Needs A Holiday," she goes with a little of both of those. The only decent aspect of "Love Needs A Holiday" is the unabashed, adult, sexuality of the song. With lyrics like "He hung up the DO NOT DISTURB / To shut out the rest of the world / 48 hours of just him and her / You can't get this at home / She pulled the covers back and / He said, 'Yeah I'm in to that'" ("Love Needs A Holiday") there is some fun to the track. But it's also not of the caliber most fans expect from Reba McEntire.

That said, the two-disc Reba #1's is not a bad album, but I'm going with the idea that this is one to avoid. Avoid it. Go for the more complete collection: the four you five up from this are replaced with some of McEntire's absolute best songs, even if they did not rise to #1!

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
So Good Together
Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor
Room To Breathe
20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection - Best Of Reba


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page.

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

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