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

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!!"

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.