Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reba McEntire’s Country-Gospel-Pop Start Started With Reba McEntire.

The Good: Decent vocals, Good overall sound
The Bad: Short, Soft, Somewhat monotonous upon multiple replays.
The Basics: A decent start to her career, Reba McEntire presents a short collection of Country-Gospel-Pop covers which illustrate her great voice, if not much originality.

As my immersion in the music of Reba McEntire continues, I have finally worked my way back to the beginning and I’ve discovered the classic Country sound that made Reba McEntire into the superstar she became. And, while it is a genre I prefer to the Country-pop that Country has more recently evolved into (and that Reba McEntire has been a part of), listening to Reba McEntire on high replay has left me feeling very neutral to the genre. Actually, that’s not entirely true. With every repetition of Reba McEntire, I come to feel more and more like I am trapped in a nursing home hell. The reason for this is simple enough. For some reason, I am associating the sleepy instrumental accompaniment, the inoffensive lyrics and soaring vocals (but not energizing!) of Reba McEntire on her debut with elevator music and music that plays are nursing home lobbies when my grandmother was in assisted living facilities.

This might not seem to be a very fair assessment of Reba McEntire, but the album does have a narcoleptic quality to it, especially on heavy replay. In fact, the only energetic-sounding song is the one that thematically I have the most problem with. Outside “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman And A Man,” Reba McEntire is comprised of slow, soulful ballads with a mild Country-gospel edge to them, up to an including a slower, surprisingly sensual cover of “Right Time Of The Night.” Despite being somewhat sleepy and monotonous, I did find there was enough on the album that was enjoyable enough to (softly) recommend the album.

With eleven songs occupying only thirty-one and a half minutes, Reba McEntire is hardly the creative work of the title performer. Instead of being a rich collection of musical statements the performer wished to make, this eponymous album is entirely written by others. McEntire did not even co-write any of the songs, so this is a collection of Country, Gospel and pop standards performed by Reba McEntire in a Country-gospel musical tradition. McEntire does not play any of the instruments on the album, either. Nor is she involved in the production of Reba McEntire. As a result, it is very hard to say that this is the musical vision of Reba McEntire in any way.

Instrumentally, Reba McEntire is a very classic Country album. The album is dominated by the piano and a string section. While a few songs have the steel guitar and fiddles, the sound is more dominated by classic orchestration, like the traveling Country road shows during the Depression (maybe that’s where I’m getting the whole “nursing home” vibe from the album). Instrumentally, there is little differentiation between the songs and almost all of the music on this album is slow and string-driven. The notable exception is “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman And A Man” which is a bit more upbeat and includes more pounding on the piano keys than any of the other tracks. It also includes backing vocalists who use handclaps for percussion, so it has a more Gospel feeling than the rest of the album. The rest of the album is more contemplative than danceable and the songs do blend together quite a bit.

Vocally, Reba McEntire establishes Reba McEntire as one of the more original vocalists of contemporary music. A contralto, Reba McEntire does not sing attempting to dominate the upper vocal registers and as a result, her songs sound like they have more sass to them, like “Invitation To The Blues,” where she sounds both soulful and melancholy because the song is presented in the lower registers of her vocal range. She has a beautiful range on “I’ve Waited All My Life For You,” but more often than attempting to show off her range, she keeps within the conservative alto range, but illustrates great lung capacity in holding ballad notes to make a truly passionate sound.

Even so, thematically, Reba McEntire plays very much to the Country music conservative base on this album. This is most obvious on “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman And A Man” where she sings “Some folks say that a mother's love is sweeter than the rest / When her baby's nestled in her arms and feeding at her breast / But I can't explain the feeling when you reach and touch my hand / Because there's nothing like the love between and woman and a man / It's a miracle from heaven / That it fills me through and through / Like a feeling that surrounds us / Touching me touching you / When you wrap your love around me it's not hard to understand / Why there's nothing like the love between and woman and a man.” This, personally, conflicts with my view that there’s nothing like the love between two women, but that sentiment does not play so well to the overt assertions of the target demographic. Even so, most of the songs are about love or the loss of love in a very traditional male/female way.

Even so, the traditional message takes a few interesting turns, most notably on the story-song “Angel In Your Arms.” On that song, Reba McEntire sings about infidelity with a little bit of a twist. The lines “When I first found out I hurt all over / I felt so left out till I got to know her / So I drived away as she got over / And I became just like her / So don't be surprised to find that / The angel in your arms this morning / Is gonna be the devil in someone else's arms tonight” (“Angel In Your Arms”) are more vengeful than forgiving or even passionately emotive. Instead, the song is a turn-the-tables Country song and I would not be surprised if it were one of the more popular early songs by Reba McEntire.

Part of what makes me so neutral to the album is that the rhymes are hardly original or even particularly interesting on many of the songs. Rhymes like “Take your love and hide away / Take my word that nothing but heartaches will follow if you stay / Take your love and leave me now / Take a look there's nothing to keep you from breaking me down” (“Take Your Love Away”) are predictable and replay of them is a bit monotonous. The result is that the album has moments that are a bit boring to the ear, even with songs like “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” which sounds like McEntire is channeling The Bee-Gees.

Even so, Reba McEntire is a promising-enough debut for the performer that it is easy to see how and why Reba McEntire’s career has endured and grown as a result. Hopefully, as c.d.s and HD-CDs get reworked, this will stay in the marketplace paired up with her sophomore endeavor to give listeners more value for their money.

The best song is “Right Time Of The Night,” the low point is the boring “One To One.”

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
Reba #1’s


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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