Reba McEntire

20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection

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Universal Music's discount-priced best-of series, given the awkward double name 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection (only a committee compromise could have produced something so ungainly), is intended as a bottom-of-the-line impulse buy for casual fans of an artist willing to spend the $10 or less for a CD running the abbreviated length of an old LP and containing only the basic hits. When it comes to an artist like Reba McEntire, who has had a lot of country hits, selection may seem something of a challenge (which may be why it took until 2006 for her to be included, though there was an earlier Christmas edition). But, in fact, it would have been easy to just throw 12 of her 23 country number one hits on a disc and go to lunch early. That's not what the compiler of this album did, however. On first glance, it might appear that the choices were made by pointing at a list of McEntire's singles while wearing a blindfold. But a closer examination reveals a darker purpose. Let's see: The leadoff track, "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven" was McEntire's first Top Ten hit in 1980, and the closing track, "He Gets That from Me," was her last Top Ten hit as of release date. Fair enough. The tracks in between are in chronological order, stretching across the 24-year gap from the first selection to the last. None of them is among the artist's many chart-toppers, and sometimes that seems deliberate. For example, "Let the Music (Lift You Up)," which reached number four in 1987, was the only McEntire single in a stretch of eight releases not to hit number one. "'Til Love Comes Again," which went to number four in 1989, broke another string of three consecutive number one hits. McEntire's cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Fancy," which hit number eight in 1991, was her lowest charting single in nearly seven years. Her cover of Vicki Lawrence's "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia," which peaked at number 12 in 1992, was her first single to miss the Top Ten in eight years. Despite being hits, these songs were not among McEntire's biggest hits; on the contrary, they were commercial disappointments, relatively speaking. Grouping them together on an album that bears the words "The Best Of" on its cover seems downright perverse; "The Rest Of" would be a better way of putting it. Of course, what constitutes the best of anything is a judgment call. It is possible that the compiler of this album listened to the whole of Reba McEntire's recorded output and honestly believed that these 12 songs were her best recordings, even if every McEntire fan in the country would disagree. It's possible, but it's not likely.

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