Reba McEntire's break of 16 months between the May 1989 release of her 14th regular studio album, Sweet Sixteen, and her 15th, Rumor Has It, in September 1990 was unusually long for a country artist and the longest for her since Mercury Records, her label at the time, waited over two years after the release of her debut LP, Reba, in August 1977 to issue her second, Out of a Dream, in September 1979. Back then, she was struggling for recognition; by the late '80s, she was country music's biggest female star. In the interim between Sweet Sixteen and Rumor Has It, she married her manager, Narvel Blackstock, released a live album, and had a baby. Meanwhile, the stream of country Top Ten singles from Sweet Sixteen kept her on the radio steadily, and she only took five months off from the road for maternity leave. The break between studio sessions seems to have given her an opportunity to take a fresh look at her recording career. She replaced her regular producer, Jimmy Bowen (who had left his job as president of her label, MCA Records), with Tony Brown, a well-known Nashville figure with a taste for crossover. And, abandoning the move back toward neo-traditionalist country she had undertaken on Sweet Sixteen, she made an album closer to its predecessor, Reba, a contemporary country crossover effort. Once again, the fiddle was gone, and while steel guitar and mandolin were listed in the credits, they were de-emphasized in favor of synthesizers. Musically, Rumor Has It was more of an adult contemporary pop record than a country record, except that McEntire's singing voice retained some of its Oklahoma twang, although even that seemed to have been softened deliberately. The leadoff single, "You Lie," which became McEntire's 15th country number one, sounded like a '50s doo wop ballad, even if the lyrics were typical ones for McEntire in their emphasis on a troubled relationship. Love was also in trouble in the title song, a Top Five country hit, in which the singer suspected infidelity; "Waitin' for the Deal to Go Down," about an impatient bride-to-be ("The ring's still sittin' in a store downtown"); "Now You Tell Me," which repeated the theme of an earlier McEntire song, "One Promise Too Late," a lover waiting too long to declare himself; the self-explanatory "Fallin' Out of Love" (another Top Five country hit); "This Picture"; and "That's All She Wrote." Country fans love to read their favorites' personal lives into the songs they sing, which can be dodgy since country artists so rarely write their own songs, and attempting to do so here would tend to emphasize McEntire's 1987 divorce over her remarriage and motherhood. But some songs did seem to have autobiographical elements. As she had twice on Sweet Sixteen, McEntire co-wrote a song with Don Schlitz, this time coming up with the driving leadoff tune, "Climb That Mountain High," which, while not specific, was full of the language of self-assertion. This sounded like the McEntire who had left her first husband and her Oklahoma home for Nashville. Even more interesting were the two covers of old songs. McEntire reserved her most impassioned singing for her version of Bobbie Gentry's 1969 song "Fancy" (a country Top Ten in this new reading, which it was not when Gentry sang it), a song about a "white trash" woman whose mother, well, pimps her out as an escape from poverty. It was a curious choice for revival from a singer who had suffered accusations of having abandoned her roots personally and professionally, and there was a feisty defensiveness in McEntire's performance. Then there was her version of Jesse Winchester's gently cutting "You Remember Me," in which a musician on the road barges in on an old flame who has become more upper class after dumping him long before. Singing it allowed McEntire to turn the tables on the charges of gettin' above her raisin' and throw the accusation at someone else. Doubtless, she herself would say she simply found a couple of good old songs and recorded them, and that's true, too. But Rumor Has It, like many of its predecessors, was an album that showed Reba McEntire restlessly in transition, never able to forget her past, but never letting that stop her from grasping at the future.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann