In 1984, when she first achieved notable commercial success, Reba McEntire declared herself part of the new traditionalist movement in country music, claiming that the pop-oriented recordings she had made in the '70s and early '80s did not reflect her real taste and that, as an album title put it, My Kind of Country was the sound of steel guitars and fiddles. In 1988, however, McEntire and her longtime co-producer Jimmy Bowen demonstrated that she was more interested in hits, in whatever style, than in country music orthodoxy. Reba, her 13th regular studio album, featured no steel guitars or fiddles; the most prominent instruments were the keyboards -- piano and a DX-7 synthesizer -- played by John Jarvis. Rock drummer Russ Kunkel, known for his association with James Taylor, pounded out the crisp beats, and Wayne Nelson popped his bass strings as if he were doing a funk session on the leadoff track, "So, So, So Long," which could have fit in snugly on adult contemporary radio, but certainly didn't sound very country. It was followed by McEntire's cover of the '40s song "Sunday Kind of Love," the album's first single, done in a lazy jazz style. Bowen and McEntire had not forgotten the singer's core audience of women wanting to hear heartbreaking ballads about regret and love gone wrong, and after "Sunday Kind of Love" peaked at a disappointing number five, the more characteristic "New Fool at an Old Game" and "I Know How He Feels" extended McEntire's string of number-one hits. But the song that really set Nashville back on its heels was a cover of Otis Redding's "Respect" in an arrangement very similar to Aretha Franklin's. The makeover worked commercially; Reba spent eight weeks at number one on the country charts, more than any previous McEntire album. But the country singer of a few years back, decked out in blue jeans held up by her a belt commemorating her father's rodeo championship, a singer who said she cared about her roots, had been replaced by a much more fashion-conscious performer who clearly wanted to go toe-to-toe with pop acts.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann