Revived, Remixed, Revisited
Well, this is a fascinating project.
Reba McEntire has chosen a creative way to revisit her catalog, with three ten-track collections, each with a different sonic approach.
We have Revived, which replicates the live arrangements of the songs using her road band. Then there’s Remixed, which turns ten Reba tracks into club anthems. And finally, Revisited, which strips ten classics down to simple, mostly acoustic arrangements.
Since this project is quite literally the exact sum of its parts, let’s take a look at each approach.
Revived is a remarkably accurate recreation of McEntire’s live show, and it works best when these arrangements either elevate the studio versions or benefit from a more nuanced vocal performance.
“Can’t Even Get the Blues” opens the set, and it’s a major highlight of this disc. As the only hit included from McEntire’s Mercury days, when she was still being reined in by producers who misunderstood her talent, the difference is night and day between this take and the 1982 version.
“Is There Life Out There” is another highlight. The original record embodied the nervousness of a woman wanting to jump but not yet confident enough to do so. Here, McEntire sounds more like an incredibly empathetic observer of the woman in the song.
On a couple of tracks, like “Whoever’s in New England” and “You Lie,” the arrangements are nearly identical to the original records, and they don’t measure up to the power of the original recordings, as McEntire tries to recreate performances from the peak era of her vocal strength.
And it feels like a cheat to include the “Take it Back/Why Haven’t I Heard From You” medley, which makes sense in the context of a live show but feels particularly ridiculous in the context of an already short ten song set.
As with every disc in this collection, this ends with the live arrangement of “Fancy.” It’s the least interesting and most unnecessary of the three takes on her signature hit. More on that later.
Remixed is a clever idea that stumbles in its execution.
There are only two good dance mixes here, and they’re both previously released. The 1996 remix of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was Reba’s only club hit, making it to No. 2 on the Billboard dance chart. It’s the best mix here by a wide margin, which is made all the more depressing by the fact that it’s already 25 years old.
The “Fancy” dance mix also works very well, but that was carefully curated for last year’s Rumor Has It anniversary edition.
The rest of these are a mess, usually suffering from trying to make mid-tempo songs into dance numbers without knowing how to actually do that. The original vocals are used, unaltered, from old hits like “I’m a Survivor” and “Does He Love You,” and more needed to be done to make them work with a faster tempo.
“Survivor” is the most blatantly pandering track in the collection, taking the line “I may be the queen of broken hearts,” and just repeating “be the queen” on a loop. I realize I’m not the target audience for this particular disc, but if I was, I wouldn’t be impressed.
But the lowest moment is “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” which is the worst served of the handful of hits that make more than one appearance on this project. After a ho-hum live arrangement, we get a Southern Gothic ballad about double homicide tacked on to the backbeat of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”
Reba and Donna both had their first big hits with musical orgasms, so if they’d reworked “(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven” here, I’d have been more impressed. But this beat paired with “Georgia” is the most ridiculous moment of a pretty ridiculous disc.
Thankfully, Reba saved the best for last. The Dave Cobb-produced Revisited is easily the best of the three discs. It finally delivers on the promise shown by Reba’s “Sweet Music Man” cover that was produced by Alison Krauss.
She sounds fantastic accompanied by these stripped-down arrangements, and she wisely saved some of her strongest material for this set. Even songs that were pretty damn great in their more heavily produced original versions, like “The Fear of Being Alone” and “Consider Me Gone,” are revelations here.
“Somebody Should Leave” and “How Blue” are two of McEntire’s most stripped down hits, so it’s not surprising how great they sound here. But it’s wonderful to hear two nearly forgotten No. 1 hits from the later Jimmy Bowen years, “The Last One to Know” and “New Fool at an Old Game,” being given a chance to shine again.
Dolly Parton sounds great on “Does He Love You,” taking over the Linda Davis part. It’s still a trainwreck of a song, but this version is at least more pleasant on the ears. And her take on “Fancy” is grittier and more energetic than the one from the stage show, with notes of indignance and anger that she’s never used before.
But the fact that we’re talking about multiple versions of “Fancy” is indicative of the project’s biggest weakness: it’s simply not generous enough with the material. We get thirty songs for the price of thirty, and many of them are repeats, so we only get 24 different songs in total. Now, I’d have ditched the Remixed disc completely, but leaving it in wouldn’t be as bad if we got, say, fifteen different songs on each disc.
Revived Remixed Revisited serves as a reminder of how strong Reba’s back catalog is, and it was a missed opportunity to not delve into it further and bring back some more of her forgotten classics.