Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Decent Collection, But The 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: Reba Isn't The Best.

The Good: Representative of a good chunk of McEntire's career, Great vocals
The Bad: Short, Largely incomplete.
The Basics: A fairly obvious cashgrab that bridges two other anthologies, the 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire is an anemic collection of Reba's 25-year career.

As I finish my immersion in the works of Reba McEntire, I feel generally pleased that I am done essentially beating a dead horse. While I have two final anthologies to review, my review on the 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire will actually be surprisingly truncated for one of my reviews. The reasons for this are very simple: the album is short, it is a compilation (so there are no new songs on it) and there is a virtually identical, but vastly superior compilation on the market that is easily available. So, while 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire might be great when you're in a gas station, see it for a buck and want something to cross the country listening to, for those looking to build a permanent collection with a decent selection of Reba McEntire music, this album surprisingly falls drastically short.

The concept behind the 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection was a simple one: to collect the best works from the best artists and performers of the 20th century and offer them affordably to the masses. The concept seemed to be striving for the definitive songs of each performer or artist and in that regard, it is even hard to complain about the "Reba McEntire" addition to the collection. But when the album was released, McEntire had over twenty albums on the market and to have that career reduced to a dozen songs seems somewhere between pointless and disrespectful. Truth be told, even as one who has listened to almost all of McEntire's works now, I'm not sure necessarily what songs I would add to 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire, but I do know that I would not have included the pop-ballad "Falling Out Of Love," which has McEntire sounding more like Streisand than herself.

With a dozen songs, occupying 46:10, 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire is hardly the creative embodiment of Reba McEntire. McEntire did write the superlative song on the album, "Only In My Mind," but was not involved in even co-writing any of the other songs. McEntire does not play any musical instruments, so all of the instrumental accompaniment comes from accompanists and McEntire is a co-producer of only about half the songs. Still, this does show Reba McEntire's transition from a traditional Country performer to a pop-Country superstar.

But, outside the writing of one song, all McEntire can truly take credit for is choosing the songs she performs - which she can do entirely independently now as she has that level of stardom where the record company does not dictate content to her - and for the vocals. On that latter front, Reba McEntire has an exceptional alto voice. On "Falling Out Of Love," she has exceptional lung capacity which is illustrated by the way she holds her notes for a long time, with a very pure and beautiful delivery. On "Fancy," she sings fast and articulate and the result is a Country classic which is dark, but danceable. And McEntire does slow and soulful exceptionally well on "(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven" and "I'm Not That Lonely Yet."

The thing is, McEntire is an able performer, but her interpretations are fairly unimaginative. Take, for example, her rendition of "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia." That song is one I've heard performed by several folk artists and performers and her version is a remarkably similar one to every other version I have heard. In other words, Reba McEntire performs it as if she is performing an old favorite to a group who doesn't want to hear anything new or different. She gives a very "literal" presentation and while she is articulate and has a good storyteller's voice for singing the musical story-song, she doesn't add any flavor that is distinctly hers. This is pretty much the same song that every other folk/Country performer has sung since it was written.

As far as the instrumental accompaniment, McEntire's career is characterized as something of an exploration of the transition of Country music. Starting with the Classic Country (with almost a Gospel flavor) rendition of "(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven," which has organ and piano sublimated to McEntire's vocals, the album slowly makes the transition to the light string and steel guitar dominated Country sound on songs like "Only In My Mind" and "Let The Music Lift Me Up." But following the electric guitar-dominated "Fancy," the songs become increasingly poppy. With "What If It's You," McEntire's sound is keyboard driven with only the perfunctory presence of the steel guitar to keep up the pretense of being a Country performer. It sounds like mid-90s pop, as does "I'll Be." The departure might be what happened to the entire genre, but the song "I'll Be" sounds like a Disney soundtrack pop number and fans of Country are likely to be a bit disappointed by the way McEntire's career here focuses more on her later, pop-driven works.

As for fans of Reba McEntire, one suspects they, too, will be generally disappointed in this album as it reduces twenty-five years of steady musical production down to a dozen songs, many of which are not even the most successful ones McEntire ever released. That said, what truly drives 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection: The Best Of Reba McEntire down is the fact that its content is almost entirely duplicated on the massive fan-favorite boxed set 50 Greatest Hits. That anthology includes almost all of McEntire's #1 hits as well as other Top 10 hits that fans and McEntire believe are her best works. Only the first two tracks from this album are missing from that anthology and as a result, most fans will be happy to lose those two songs and get forty more.

The best songs are "Only In My Mind" and "Fancy," I'm not fond of "I'll Be."

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
Reba McEntire
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
Reba #1's


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

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