Reba McEntire

My Kind of Country

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When Reba McEntire switched from Mercury Records, the label that had developed her from being a 19-year-old singing the national anthem at a rodeo in 1974 to back-to-back number-one country hits in 1983, and moved to MCA as of October 1 of that year, the idea was that the new company was going to take her to the next level, outright superstardom in country music. Instead, her career hit a speed bump with her first MCA LP, Just a Little Love, produced by Norro Wilson, who, like Jerry Kennedy, her Mercury producer, wanted to take advantage of her vocal range by having her sing a wide variety of material, but succeeded only in giving her a fuzzy image with record buyers. MCA next brought in Harold Shedd, the hot producer of Alabama, for the follow-up to Just a Little Love, but McEntire was dissatisfied with the songs he brought her and with the pop sweetening he applied to the tracks initially, and she went to the new company president Jimmy Bowen, who told her to go ahead and find her own songs and cut them her own way. (Shedd retains his producer credit, no doubt for contractual reasons, but it's in name only.) That might have been a daunting prospect to another country singer, but McEntire was paying attention to the charts, and she realized that the country-pop of the urban cowboy era in country music of the early '80s had given way to the new traditionalism of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, and she shrewdly decided to jump on the bandwagon. She got a new song from country legend Harlan Howard ("Somebody Should Leave," co-written with Chick Raines), but instead of making the rounds of the Nashville publishers, she rooted around in her record collection and came up with songs from old LPs previously recorded by the likes of Ray Price ("Don't You Believe Her," "I Want to Hear It from You"), Carl Smith ("Before I Met You"), Connie Smith ("You've Got Me [Right Where You Want Me]"), and Faron Young ("He's Only Everything"). In the studio, she and Bowen banished the strings that had played a big part on Just a Little Love and her Mercury recordings in favor of hard country arrangements dominated by the fiddles of Johnny Gimble and Mark O'Connor and the steel guitars of Sonny Garrish and Doyle Grisham, with Jerry Douglas' dobro also having a pride of place. Then she sang this collection of country shuffles as if she were Patsy Cline back from the grave. The result was the breakthrough she was looking for. "How Blue," the leadoff single, went to number one, followed by the irresistible "Somebody Should Leave," a characteristically direct Howard story song about an impending divorce a couple was studiously avoiding, as the female narrator put it, because "He needs the kids, and they need me." McEntire, who grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma and spent her summers traveling to rodeos with her father, a professional cowboy, had no trouble investing this material with a sense of authenticity, and the old songs were simultaneously familiar-sounding and yet not actually well known. My Kind of Country vaulted her into the ranks of the hottest performers in country music, circa 1984.

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