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.


  1. I think this record was semi-rushed, since McEntire seemed to have a christmas album planned, but after her performance of “If I were A Boy” on a CMT show, they decided to make an album.

    I think McEntire still sounds great (vocally) and she does fantastic on her rendition of “If I Were A Boy.” But I do see your points. I preferred her last set Keep On Loving You to this, but both weren’t horribly awful.

    I will say, I liked the songs on this album, but my favorite was “The Day She Got Divorced,” reminded me of two great songs off her last album: “She’s Turning 50 Today” and “Eight Crazy Hours.”

    I hope she picks up some better material for her next album… she managed to find great female power anthems in the 90’s (“The Fear Of Being Alone,” “Is There Life Out There,” etc) and still managed to make it her own.

    But you can’t deny that Reba’s voice is still great.

  2. While she is trying to be young I would take this album over Taylor, or Carrie any day! I too actually very much like “If I were a Boy”, Reba really made it her own, and who says older artist can’t sing younger material. I for one do not want to hear Reba sing about back ach’s. menapause, the good ole days, or heat flashes, talk about ageism in country music.

  3. Reba is just trying so hard to appear young and hip. You can even see it in the way she dresses. You don’t ever see Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, or Mary Chapin Carpenter dressing that way, and Reba is older than all of them.

    It sure has taken a toll on her music. It’s just irritating to see Reba struggling to “fit in” with all the young blonde sorority gals like Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. She makes her best music when she sings from her own perspective. My favorite Reba single of all is “The Fear of Being Alone,” and that’s largely because it delivers more mature lyrical content that a younger star could never pull of as convincingly as Reba.

    That said, I did like this album a little more than Kevin did, though it definitely wasn’t great. I agree with the general opinion on “Turn On the Radio,” and I also say that “Somebody’s Chelsea is a dud.

  4. Just a point, but K.T. Oslin made a very successful run singing about menopause and the older woman-and she was 10 years younger than McEntire is now…There is a formula out there to make it work, she just needs to tap into it.

  5. Wow…we are normally more in sync on these things, but I have really enjoyed this album more than at least the last three. Is that really saying much, though? Maybe she gets a pass in my mind because the theme of the album is all of these different personalities, but the material here is pretty strong. I’m loving the title track, “The Day She Got Divorced,” and shockingly “If I Were a Boy.” Now, if every album sounded like this, it would be bad, but I’m okay with this.

  6. You nailed it, Kevin. I’ve been somewhat mystified by the way most critics seem to be overpraising this album, which I thought was a pretty boring affair. I was beginning to think it was just me! ;)

  7. Personally, I don’t think Reba’s made a great album since 1996’s What If It’s You. I do think if you took the best two or three tracks from her last five studio albums, you could make a decent compilation.

  8. I’m tempted to blame it on Dann Huff because the album is very boring in a Keith Urban sort of way, but the truth is, Reba’s past few albums have not been very good.

  9. Personally, I don’t think Reba’s made a great album since 1996′s What If It’s You. I do think if you took the best two or three tracks from her last five studio albums, you could make a decent compilation.

    I can’t really argue with that. I liked most of If You See Him and about half of Room to Breathe but What If It’s You was the last one that I enjoyed from beginning to end (though “State of Grace” was a bit of a dud).

  10. I’ll have to admit that I really do like Reba’s version of “If I Were a Boy” despite the obvious irony and inappropriateness of a 55-year-old country legend covering Beyonce.

  11. Ya I agree she should sing songs of a higher substance but I’ve come to terms with her singing this style because mainstream country needs her. Otherwise its just the young blondes, and I get the irony she’s lowering to their style but she’s still better and it gives more variety at radio and a performance to look forward to at the CMA’s.
    She knows if she acts too old and the quality gets too high radio will turn a blind eye so let her have the success and see how long she can go. In a few short years there will be a time for her to cut loose like Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis and do that stuff. Just hope her voice holds up for it.

  12. I guess I like this album more than you … for purely subjective reasons. ‘The Day She Got Divorced’ is by far my favorite track though. And I think you nailed Reba’s general direction in the recording process lately, especially with “But in adopting the voice of the younger generation of ladies, McEntire becomes the student when she should really be the teacher.”

  13. …i’d have absolutely no problem with all the different kinds of women reba carries inside herself, if only the images were a little sharper. frankly, i wouldn’t mind at all, if i was blinded, stunned, bewildered or whatever by one or the other character displayed or would have to listen a song or two through some misty eyes. unfortunately, this batch of songs hasn’t got memory-enhancing qualities – quite on the contrary, actually. if listened to as part of the whole album, they’re as memorable as the passing waves of a river watched from a bridge above.

    reba might just not be the perfect protagonist for such a project – so let’s wait until leann rimes might give this topic a good shot.

  14. Im sorry but i dont agree with this AT ALL. And you are the first reviewere who has something bad to say, about reba’s cover of if i were a boy. And you really need to listen to it better, if you think about it, it does work with reba. “You dont listen to her, and you dont care how it hurts” Reba could be singing from a mother’s point of view about her daughter being mistreated by her boyfriend.

    And the only song that comes off as reba trying to sound too young is turn on the radio, even though i like it, i agree with you. And again, with somebody’s chelsea, do you want reba to sing about her walking with a cane, and artheritis. Its a song about love for pete’s sake. 9/10 songs on her ALL seem very age appropriate.

  15. I think there are a couple of songs I could do without on this album (I’m not naming names, but… Turn on the Radio…?) but overall I thought it pretty solid. I actually liked “If I Were a Boy” mostly because Beyonce’s uber vibrato makes it so difficult to listen to. I think there’s a maturity that Reba brings to the song and really elevates it above Beyonce’s version, but that’s just my opinion.

    Actually, the real reason I commented was to address the issue of how Reba dresses. Honestly… she wears tight jeans and a tank top. I’d hope that when I’m in my mid-50’s, I’d be able to wear something like that without people castigating me and telling me I’m trying to dress too young. What is she supposed to wear? Frumpy blouses?

  16. @SD, It’s more than just her jeans and tank top. It’s the entire way Reba is presenting herself these days, wearing leather wristcuffs, tattoo-design shirts, and worst of all, black fingernail polish all the time. She sometimes comes off as a ‘gothic grandma’ to me with her wardrobe. And that’s compounded by the fact that she really does have a flattering collection for mature women of her own, sold at Dillard’s.

    That said, I still like about half of these songs very well.

  17. On the issue of her look: I always cringe whenever I see her in a beautiful dress with those black-painted fingernails, it just doesn’t look very classy, particularly when you see the way Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood dress at the awards…. But I love all three ladies, and they have classy personalities anyways.

    I can say I really LOVED only 5/10 songs on the album, with 2 being likeable listens, and 3 being songs that I would only listen to every once in a while (particularly when I am listening to the CD in full).

    However, that being said, I do have all 9 songs on my iPod (with a single version of “Turn On The Radio”), because her voice is just still so spectacular. [and we need that voice on radio, so if this is how we get it, then that’s fine by me, as long as she makes SOME good music].

  18. …quite true, mr. journey, black nail polish always reminds guys of unlucky carpenters. wrong entry.

    if she took that legendary red number out of retirement for a couple of liner-notes centrefold shots – that might do the trick and make this album a little more memorable.

  19. @SD Thank you, someone FINALLY gets it!!! I dont think reba is dressing inappropriate AT ALL. Is she wearing skimpy outfits NO, Is she showing alot of clevage NO, Is she wearing tight dresses and dressing like shes a teenager NO. Madonna dresses like shes 20 and noone tells her anything. Plus reba wears mature stuff all the time, especially in interviews, and awards shows. And youre telling me, reba cant wear black nail polish. COME ON!! Thats just ridiculous.

    You guys are being really steriotypical and are categorizing her. Its like your saying that she needs to walk with some can and wear those old timeish clothes.

  20. I didn’t say that Reba’s style of dress is “inappropriate.” It’s not even that big of a deal to me. I’m just commenting on how it seems to be another reflection of her attempts at projecting a youthful image. And who cares about Madonna dressing young? I didn’t even mention Madonna’s name, let alone compliment her clothing choices.

  21. By the way, Code, Kevin is not the first reviewer to criticize Reba’s take on “If I Were a Boy.” Blake Boldt didn’t like it either – an opinion reflected in his review of this album on the 9513. Let’s face it – such an unlikely cover is bound to be a polarizing topic.

  22. @ J. R. Journey: I personally don’t consider black nail polish to be gothic, but… to each their own. But I’ll give you that point about the leather wristcuffs.

    @ Ben Foster; Apologies! I think I was just overreading into your comment.

  23. Wow the ageism coming from this post! Why do people over a certain age have to sing certain material or wear certain things. Is it only old codgers who are saying this, cause come on it’s 2010 not 1850. We live in a society where we can wear what we want and sing what we want. I’m 26 and love songs about things I have never been through or am not old enough to relate to. Does that mean if I was a singer I should not sing them because I need to sing material meant for younger stars? Because I’m younger would I be able to sing about young love, would it be a sin if I sang a song about getting divorced at 50? Come on people who are talking age listen to yourselves, you sound very narrow minded. Like there is no gray, only black and white, and this is the way it has to be. Btw how does it feel to be called an old codger, just using some reverse ageism there.

  24. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how Reba dresses or how Madonna dresses, but Reba could take some cues from Madonna on how to incorporate current musical trends without losing your artistic voice in the process.

    My issue isn’t that the record sounds like what’s on the radio, but rather that she adopts the perspective of those who are much younger, and in my opinion, have much less interesting things to say.

  25. Another interesting perspective that one could take is that musicians are also storytellers and interpreters (as are actors), so part of their job is quite possibly to tell the story of a character (be it from the character’s perspective or from a bystander’s point of view), and so, sometimes they have to take on the identity of the character in order to better tell the story…. I guess the point I am trying to make is that Reba is a storyteller (and a good one, at that), and that’s what she was trying to do on this album… (as well as on previous albums)….

    I had a great idea, Reba should enlist Alison Krauss and/or Trisha Yearwood to help co-produce her next album, the material would have to be at least leagues better… Just a thought.

  26. J.R.: I completely forgot about that! That is one of my favorites by Reba too; all the more reason to get Krauss on board! :)) [and Yearwood can help with the song selection]

  27. This the best review of Reba and her career choices I have ever read. I wish too that she was singing for adults. Country music use to be about the struggle of adults. Reba is a rare gem. I wish she trusted herself more.

  28. Truth is, Reba’s voice [‘The Heartbreak Queen’] didn’t become viable anymore once Shania [‘Girl Power’] came onto the scene.

    She was able to do female power-anthems very well (with good songs) in the 90’s [“Is There Life Out There,” “The Fear Of Being Alone,” “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”], and they all worked because (as Kevin wrote) she provided an experienced outlook to the younger ladies…. I don’t understand why she cannot still do this?

    As I’ve often wrote, McEntire should explore the option of having someone else (*ahem* Trisha Yearwood *ahem*) help her with song selection.

  29. well ZACK she does do that on the 3rd track – The Bridge You Burn, and reba confirmed to billboard that it will DEFINITELY be a single, but she just doesnt know when.

  30. I love Reba’s music, but I am having more and more difficulty accepting her black fingernail polish that she continues to wear year after year. Every time I see her, regardless of the venue, she’s got it on. It looks garrish and cult-ish, not flattering at all. I don’t know who her stylist is, but they are completely missing the mark. Reba should be about “classic style” not trying to be a rapper. Get with it Reba!

  31. Reba is a great singer. She dresses very sexy. The nail polish is very flattering. I hope when I am her age I look as good as her. She looks so much younger than she really is. I hope she doesn’t change anything. She is a wonderful person and entertainer!

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