Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Reba McEntire

  • My Kind of Country [MCA, 1984] B+
  • The Best of Reba McEntire [Mercury, 1985] B+
  • Have I Got a Deal for You [MCA, 1985] B
  • Whoever's in New England [MCA, 1986] B
  • Greatest Hits [MCA, 1987] A-
  • It's Your Call [MCA, 1993] C+
  • Starting Over [MCA, 1995] Choice Cuts

Consumer Guide Reviews:

My Kind of Country [MCA, 1984]
Though it enabled her to waltz off with the Country Music Association's artist-of-the-year award in her gender division, this longtime up-and-comer's second MCA album may pass outsiders right by. Its vaunted neotraditionalism is long on detail work--a thick hillbilly accent so soft-spoken it never intrudes, songcraft so steeped in the canon it splits the difference between evocation (side one) and cliché (side two). Those who miss the good old days are advised to think of her as Tammy Wynette with a natural and take what breakthrough they can get. B+

The Best of Reba McEntire [Mercury, 1985]
I'll take this benighted distillation over what we've heard of her kind of country, mostly because it's a distillation (from 1980-1983, when she was on her way to neoclassicism). Donna Fargo at her cheeriest couldn't get away with the keynoting "(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven," the Platters cover would be useless even without the strings, and "My Turn" is sexy-gal at its most repulsive ("You have reached the woman in me through the man in you," she notes as she offers the guy a blow job). But songs like "I Don't Think Love Ought to Be That Way," "I'm Not That Lonely Yet," and "You're the First Time I've Ever Thought About Leaving" group around the same sexually self-possessed persona and would stand out on any album she has in mind. Jerry Kennedy rarely overdoes the schlock. And though the voice has less character, it's also less sedate. B+

Have I Got a Deal for You [MCA, 1985]
Finally her own award-winning, best-selling woman, she assumes coproducer status and sheds Harold Shedd, whom some would say got her this far. And indeed, with a little help from Jimmy Bowen she refines the formula-no backup choruses, no newfangled keyboards, no bedroom lyrics. She's a lot more her own woman than hot-to-trot centerfold candidates like Janie Fricke. But though occasionally her music defeats country's sex-role divisions--the self-composed I-never-actually-cheated song "Only in My Mind" is so proud and virtuous and deeply regretful it could give a fella bad dreams--she suggests that female country singers are going to have trouble rebelling neotraditionally. Especially with men providing the material. B

Whoever's in New England [MCA, 1986]
Winning though her directness may be, McEntire is neither as clear as George Strait nor as lavish as John Anderson. In fact, the basics she gets back to recall Rosanne Cash more than anyone else, and no matter how she tries, she just can't rock out (or sing) like Nashville's crossover queen. Most convincing are the jauntily defiant cheating-on song "Little Rock," where she plays a rich man's wife, and the dolefully forgiving cheated-on song "Whoever's in New England," where she plays a young executive's wife. Elsewhere she's mostly just direct. B

Greatest Hits [MCA, 1987]
How great you think she is depends on how great you think her voice is. I say that for all her reach and technique she's too contained and too generic; direct comparison with Wells or Cline or Lynn or Wynette or Parton leaves her in the dust. Which means that like other mortal country artists she's made for the best-of, where every song counts. This one marches them past chronologically, two by two from each of her first five MCA albums (omitting the current Last One to Know). Significantly, the only dud is the only violin showcase, from her label debut--pseudopurism does suit her. Also significantly, the greats are from albums two, three, and four, not five (or six). And the centerpiece is "Whoever's in New England," where pseudopurism lets on how far its thoughts sometimes stray from home. A-

It's Your Call [MCA, 1993]
There's no point expecting scintillation--even her new best-of doesn't have more than two-three zingers on it. So what's most irksome about this dull, bland megahit is what it says about the new Nashville. Reba has her pride, and "For Herself," written with two other women, remains an honorable female-autonomy vignette even after you forget the tune (a good thing, because the song hasn't ended yet). But genderwise she's about as adventurous as Clint Black or Alan Jackson--just right for a world where Wynonna Judd is a protofeminist heroine. C+

Starting Over [MCA, 1995]
"Please Come to Boston" Choice Cuts