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Album Review: Reba McEntire, All the Women I Am

Reba McEntire
All the Women I Am

A case study in musical identity crisis.

Here we have one of the most gifted vocalists in the history of country music, searching in vain for her voice.  The trend has been going on for some time now, and if this isn’t its apex, we’re in for a long and bumpy ride. Not since her days with Mercury has McEntire ever tried so hard to fit in with the current sound on country radio, and much like those early records, this trend-chasing set is both overprocessed and underdeveloped.

What can you say about a woman of McEntire’s age and stature covering Beyoncé? How can one take seriously her references to Twitter and “kicking it” with the guys? One one track, she talks about meeting an old man on the plane who is mourning Chelsea,  the love of his life who has since passed on.  She dreams about being “Somebody’s Chelsea.”  How can a woman in her mid-fifties not have something substantial to add to a conversation with this man?

Everything takes place in the distant future here, and truth be told, this would be a pretty good Kellie Pickler album. But in adopting the voice of the younger generation of ladies, McEntire becomes the student when she should really be the teacher.

At her peak, McEntire gave voice to the everyday woman. On classics like “Only in My Mind”, “Whoever’s in New England”, and “Is There Life Out There”, she put into words what women were really thinking but were conditioned not to say.

Which is why when McEntire suddenly taps that vein in two of the album’s closing tracks, it’s like a sudden jolt to the system. “The Day She Got Divorced” is vivid and real, with lyrical imagery that would make Jeannie C. Riley proud.   Just as good is the album’s beautiful closing track, “When You Have a Child,” where McEntire catalogs all of the conflicting emotions a mother feels from the time her child is born to when they’re leaving home.

You know why it works? Because McEntire has the life experience to back it up.  It’s actually age-appropriate, and it’s tremendously powerful as a result.  None of the younger artists she’s chasing the sound of could pull it off, but McEntire effortlessly knocks it out of the park.

Here’s the deal. These days, there is no shortage of young women with barely any life experience who have the whole world hanging on every word they say.  McEntire doesn’t need to lower herself to that level, just so she can be heard. As the best moments on All the Women I Am prove, she’s more authoritative when speaking for her own generation than she can ever be by adopting the viewpoints of the young’uns who aren’t that interesting to begin with.  Music by adults, for adults please.

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