Music

Reba McEntire: Room to Breathe

Marshall Bowden

Reba Mcentire

Room to Breathe

Label: MCA Nashville
US Release Date: 2003-11-18
UK Release Date: 2003-11-17
Amazon
iTunes

Make no mistake: Reba McEntire pioneered the crossover trail from down-home, rootsy country gal to sophisticated, big city country-pop diva that Shania Twain and Faith Hill followed to stardom more than a decade later. But Reba has something that neither of those singers, nor the many others who have trod the same path, have: she was a Nashville insider, on the tip of a burgeoning "new traditionalist" movement. And though her subsequent work has drawn the usual derisive "sell out" cries from traditionalists, McEntire has solidified her audience by singing material that speaks to women of all walks of life, seeming to speak of their innermost desires, secrets, and fears. In that respect, McEntire harkens back to the rich vein of '70s female country performers who specialized in songs that told stories and explored the female psyche. It goes a long way toward explaining her incredible popularity as well as why Shania and Faith fail to measure up.

The last studio album that McEntire released was 1999's So Good Together, an album that presented the singer at the peak of her crossover sound. Those who liked that sound and presentation may be a little put off by Room to Breathe because, while the new disc features plenty of Reba the crossover queen, it also contains some more traditional-sounding material, such as the gospel-tinged "Love Revival" and the hardcore country "I'm Gonna Take That Mountain", the album's first single. The goal for this album was to represent the many different styles that Reba has performed over the years, and McEntire, together with producers Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson, has done a good job of presenting a variety of sounds. For some, the result will be too diverse and lack focus, but if McEntire can do all of these styles convincingly, why shouldn't she?

There are the requisite tearjerker ballads here, the songs that tell stories of plain people caught in painful situations that have become McEntire's stock in trade. "Secret" opens the album with a powerful sound and tells the story of a woman who gave her baby up for adoption many years ago; now she wonders about the child and laments her decision. "He Gets That from Me" is a song about loss that McEntire considers her tribute to those who lost loved ones in the September 11th attack. The emotionally charged "Moving Oleta" tells the story of an elderly man who is forced by circumstances to put his wife in a nursing home. When McEntire sings that "Only God and couple of nurses / Helped the old man shoulder the burden", it's a devastating acknowledgement of the loneliness and separation that all humans must face.

The down from the mountain-style track "I'm Gonna Take That Mountain" is the heart of the album, featuring country harmonies (Reba with harmony singers Sonya Isaacs and Curtis Wright), banjo, and fiddle. It could be a track from one of Dolly Parton's recent back-to-bluegrass albums, or something by Alison Kraus. Kraus makes an appearance on the album, in fact, as do Linda Davis and Dan Tyminski. "Mountain" says in bold letters that Reba is country and Reba is back. Whether listeners buy it or not, they'll be hard-pressed to argue with the evidence presented on this particular track. It's a strong sound that grabs listeners right from the three-part harmony on the opening.

Of course, Reba still has to compete with Shania and Faith, and she concedes nothing to them, not even their home territory. On the album's title track she shows that she can out sing them even while sounding as contemporary and pop-oriented as anyone. "Secret" and "Somebody" also deal in the modern country-tinged pop sound that Reba helped forge. Room to Breathe ends with the obligatory duet, "It Just Had to Be This Way", performed with Vince Gill. It's the kind of sweeping, dramatic ballad that McEntire's done plenty of, and it doesn't end the album on a particularly strong or memorable note, but this is still McEntire's best outing in awhile. Prior to the four-year hiatus forced on her by her forays into Broadway and television, McEntire seemed a little burnt out. Her song selection was no longer as sharp as it had been and there were times when it seemed she was just going through the motions. Room to Breathe makes you forget all that, with an inspired collection of tunes and styles that virtually screams "Reba's Back!!"


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.