Saturday, November 13, 2010

Album Review: Reba McEntire - All the Women I Am

It is highly unusual for country radio to continue playing new music from a female artist after she passes the big 5-0.  Reba is likely aware of this fact, and is attempting to stay relevant by projecting an image that is as hip and youthful as humanly possible.  Her current hit, "Turn On the Radio" is clear evidence of this career strategy.  It is spunky, loud, over-produced, and essentially sounds like a mid-life crisis set to music.  Fortunately, the disastrous lead single is not representative of the album's overall sound.

On All the Women I Am, Reba adequately proves her adeptness at delivering spot-on vocal performances, whether the song requires her to let loose and have fun, or pour her heart out in a ballad.  When the album is good, boy is it good!  But there are a few glaring missteps as well.  The strongest moments include the heartbreak song, "Cry," in which a women struggles to keep her tangled emotions under control.  "When You Have a Child" ranks as one of Reba's most emotionally hard-hitting songs.  Such songs show that Reba is most proficient when performing songs that reflect her maturity and life experience. 

Her cover of Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy" doesn't exactly fit into that category, yet it still proves a success as it pairs Reba's plaintive and nuanced delivery with a more country-tinged arrangement.  Trills of steel guitar are inserted as if the song were meant all along to be country, and it surprisingly sounds perfectly natural.

Reba's includes a composition of her own, but it ends up a disappointment.  "Somebody's Chelsea" falls into the tired "old man's advice" category, but it fails to bring anything new to the table.  It is unclear what inspiration we are to take away from its vague message, and it ends up feeling a bit saccharine.

As usual, Reba revisits her signature girl-power song file with the ambitious horn-and-sax-infused title track.  She also walks us through the escapades of a jilted ex-spouse in "The Day She Got Divorced" - a track striking in its frankness. Though All the Women I Am is weighed down by a small amount of filler,  there are also some great moments to be found.  Though not the best album of her career, it's surely not a complete failure.  Rather, it is a qualified success that will likely satisfy her biggest fans while ensuring that country radio won't dare put her out to pasture anytime soon.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)