Reba McEntire already has 56 top ten hits to her credit, and her new single, “Strange”, just entered the chart at #39, a career-high entry for the legendary singer. She's been a presence on the country charts for 23 years, has more gold and platinum albums than any female country artist, and she's a multimedia star, finding great success on Broadway and in television and film.
But for those who know her best as a sitcom star or Kelly Clarkson's and Kenny Chesney's duet partner, trying to tackle her catalog is a daunting task. This Starter Kit will get you going, as it includes ten of her most essential tracks. Those of you looking to learn more about McEntire are highly recommended to check out the excellent My Kind of Country blog, which gives frequent and always high-quality coverage of McEntire's music, past and present.
“Somebody Should Leave” from the 1984 album My Kind of Country
Even though she was won her first CMA award for Female Vocalist before this album was released, My Kind of Country is widely credited as being the first truly great Reba McEntire album. She exerted creative control for the first time, and instantly became one of the genre's most significant new traditionalists.
This Harlan Howard classic is achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful, a description that fits most of McEntire's best work. Here, a couple is aware that it's time to part ways, but aren't sure how to go about it, so worried are they for their children: “If it was only you and me, goodbye might come more easily. But what about those babies down the hall?”
“Whoever's in New England” from the 1986 album Whoever's in New England
A country ballad on the surface, a power pop ballad below the surface. This epic of suspected cheating turned her into a record seller, and earned her the CMA award for Entertainer of the Year.
“One Promise Too Late” from the 1986 album What Am I Gonna Do About You
McEntire's recorded quite a bit of traditional country, but rarely as pure as this track, where the musical hook is provided by twin fiddles and her voice is even twangier than usual.
“You Lie” from the 1990 album Rumor Has It
There were quite a few solid singles off Reba's lesser-known but still platinum-selling albums from the late eighties. But when she teamed with Tony Brown for Rumor Has It, the lead single “You Lie” blew them out of the water. The full range of her voice was on display for the first time, and it was a force to be reckoned with.
“Fancy” from the 1990 album Rumor Has It
Bobbie Gentry's original was tinged with sadness and regret, but McEntire turned it into an empowerment anthem, a full force assualt on the “self-righteous hypocrites that call me bad.” She did what she had to do, and she stayed true to her mother and herself. She could care less what anyone else thinks about it.
“For My Broken Heart” fro
m the 1991 album For My Broken Heart
Paul W. Dennis of The 9513 said that his Randy Travis Starter Kit could begin and end with the entirety of Storms of Life. I could say the same about McEntire and her masterpiece For My Broken Heart.
Recorded in the wake of the plane crash that killed her road manager and several members of her band, the album is somber without ever becoming too morose. The title track was originally planned as a duet with Clint Black, but McEntire did it alone in the end. Her performance on the CMA Awards was one of her finest moments, even as her voice visibly cracked with emotion at the end.
“The Greatest Man I Never Knew” from the 1991 album For My Broken Heart
A daughter looks back on the man who sacrificed everything he had to make a better life for his family, but in so doing, never got to know his daughter. “I never really knew him,” she laments, “and now it seems so sad. Everything he gave to us took all he had.”
“If I Had Only Known” from the 1991 album For My Broken Heart
Her finest moment on record, as she looks back with sad regret on the things that she never said to a loved one who has died. “If I had only known it was my last night by your side, I'd pray a miracle stop the dawn. And when you smiled at me, I would look into your eyes and make sure you know my love for you goes on and on.”
“The Fear of Being Alone” from the 1996 album What If It's You
This strikingly intelligent hit finds McEntire warning her new beau not to rush into saying “I love you.” She warns him that “you may think you do, but you don't. It's just the fear of being alone.”
“Moving Oleta” from the 2003 album Room to Breathe
This one's so painfully sad that it could've been on For My Broken Heart. A man moves his wife into a nursing home because he can no longer care for her, so advanced is her Alzheimer's.