Tuesday, May 3, 2011

50 Greatest Hits Is The Best There Is For Reba McEntire Fans (For Now)!

The Good: Duration, Vocals, Generally good mix of songs
The Bad: Instrumental accompaniment evolves into something unpleasantly poppy.
The Basics: A strong collection of music performed by Reba McEntire, 50 Greatest Hits is more hampered by problems of the genre than anything McEntire does or doesn't do.

Today, I shall try to put to rest the idea that I simply loathe McEntire's works - my last few compilation reviews have been fairly strong pannings - by reviewing the largest Reba McEntire anthology, 50 Greatest Hits.

50 Greatest Hits is a far better value than many of the more limited-content single disc sets as this provides the closest thing to a career retrospective that currently exists for Reba McEntire. Given that she continues to chart singles, one imagines someday there will be a 75 Greatest Hits or 100 Hits boxed set, but until then, this remains the definitive album anthology for fans of Reba McEntire. Truth be told, those looking for something by Reba McEntire need look no further than this set; having listened to almost all of her albums, no songs stood out as being noticeably lacking from this collection (save her latest, which was made after this was released).

Spanning three discs, 50 Greatest Hits is true to its word with fifty songs, none of which are unique to this anthology. With over three hours of music, this might seem to be an exceptional body of McEntire's creative vision, but the truth is, it is more an anthology of her career. The difference is that McEntire's creative vision is exceptionally limited and does not seem to be much of a Country music legacy. While the one song she wrote, "Only In My Mind" has an arguably Country undertone (it's light pop/Country), discs two and three illustrate a strong motion toward straightforward pop with pop-rock undertones. At least early in her career, McEntire was performing Country-gospel and Country-pop songs.

Sadly, "perform" is the correct word here as Reba McEntire's artistic influence is minimal, as exemplified by her fifty greatest hits. McEntire wrote only one of the songs and she was not even involved with co-writing any of the others. McEntire also is uninvolved with playing any musical instruments and it is only as her career progressed more toward straightforward pop and pop-rock that she took on the duties of co-producing her songs. She is, however, the primary vocalist on all of the tracks, save four duets, which were something she did more of when she became established as the reigning diva of Country (say what you will about Shania Twain's sales, she did not have the endurance of Reba McEntire!). As a result, McEntire's career has largely been performing the songs of others and making the words famous through her.

She has succeeded largely on the strength of her voice. McEntire is one of the few female vocalists who seems quite content to perform in the alto register. This gives her songs a greater sense of sass and spunk, which is probably how she got pigeonholed into Country so quickly (her earliest works actually sound pretty Gospel). As well as performing lower than most female vocalists, Reba McEntire has amazing vocal control. On songs like "Whoever's In New England" and "And Still," McEntire exhibits an uncommon ability to hold notes and make them sound melodic and longing. Indeed, in today's youth-crazed, production-happy music industry, it seems rare to find a performer who has such lung capacity and diaphragm strength to actually hold notes and keep them sounding melodic. McEntire, however, can and does.

As well, Reba McEntire on 50 Greatest Hits proves her ability to sing fast and articulately. Songs like "Fancy" and "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" include faster portions where the words are packed in. On those songs, McEntire not only keeps up, she makes them sound perfectly clear and good. As McEntire's career on this album progresses, she moves from being a Country vocalist ("Little Rock" sounds entirely pop from the keyboard accompaniment, but McEntire's vocals have twang and drawl which get the song considered Country) to one who might as well be pop. McEntire takes on a Diane Warren song ("I'll Be") and a duet with Kelly Clarkson ("Because Of You") and she removes from her voice any sense that she has a Southern or Western American accent. Instead, her vocals sound like those of a mainstream pop artist.

The overall sound of the album(s) is what evolves and, unfortunately, it is more a work that followed or foreshadowed the move from Country to Country-pop. McEntire's earliest songs employ the fiddle and the steel guitar. But that sound moves more toward keyboards and electric guitars as her singles progress and her voice loses is twang. By the time the last few songs play, listeners would be hard pressed to determine what the difference is between a Reba McEntire "Country" song and an early-90s pop song. Country, arguably, is pop ten years too late, if 50 Greatest Hits were to define it! That said, when McEntire's backings are instruments like the electric guitars on "Fancy" and the programmed string sound on "He Gets That From Me," she holds her own and the highlights of the songs tend to be her vocals, which sound far more natural by contrast.

Lyrically, it is hard to compliment or condemn McEntire for much that is on the album. Given that she wrote so little of it herself, it is hard to complain when the lyrics are stale ("Falling Out Of Love") or passe ("The Heart Won't Lie"). Largely, the songs on 50 Greatest Hits are relationship songs. They are songs about love ("Sunday Kind Of Love," "Forever Love"), longing ("The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter," "The Fear Of Being Alone") and loss ("For My Broken Heart," "The Greatest Man I Never Knew"). She does mix it up with songs about HIV/AIDS ("She Thinks His Name Was John") and social change in the family ("What Do You Say"). But largely, the songs are about relationships and how they fall apart or meet the challenges that come their way. I suppose, in some ways, Reba McEntire's songs are the traditional Country "my husband left me, my truck got stuck in the mud, my dog died" kind of songs, but she makes them sound good.

Ultimately, this is the one Reba McEntire collection that anyone who likes Country or pop music will want because it has all of the best, without the filler. The best songs are "One Promise Too Late" (Disc 1), "Fancy" (Disc 2), and "What If It's You" (Disc 3). The low points are "How Blue" (Disc 1), "Take It Back" (Disc 2) and "Somebody" (Disc 3).

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: The Millennium Collection - The Best Of Reba McEntire
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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