As the seller of more than 35 million records and the star of country musics greatest road show, Reba McEntire stands at the pinnacle of her profession. Her 1996 album demonstrates that there is only one record maker we need to measure her against, herself. No one else even comes close.
Her place in history has long since been assured, for she is in the ranks of the mightiest superstars in the annals of country music. Reba is unquestionably one of the finest vocal stylists who has ever recorded in Nashville. Her business empire is matched by none of her peers. She has launched a successful acting career. She is a wife and mother. She has done it all.
Or has she? With her 18th album for MCA Records, Reba turns the page into a completely new chapter in her musical career. Titled What If Its You, this collection finds the country-music titan reinventing herself as a record maker. This album brings listeners inside her world and connects them to the musical family she has surrounded herself with in Music City. It brings new warmth, presence and personality to her sound.
"My best friends are the people I work with," says Reba. "This time, I wanted to record music that is energetic and fun to listen to. Id like people to hear that Im sitting back and enjoying life. And I realized that Im the most relaxed when Im around my Starstruck Entertainment family."
During the past year, she and her Starstruck staff have moved into a breathtaking office complex that she built in Nashville' famed Music Row business district. The building includes a state-of-the-art recording studio, and Reba christened it with the recording of this new album. Its a "homegrown" project from top to bottom. She co-produced the record herself. Her backing musicians are her buddies in her touring band, rather than the usual Nashville session musicians. More than half the tunes came from the staff songwriters of her Starstruck publishing companies.
"Everything feels different about this record," she comments. "Weve made changes in every aspect – the songs, the attitude, the excitement of the new studio, the band, new microphones, new production, everything."
"My last album, Staring Over, was so heavy with instrumentation, so thick in production. This time, I want a crisp mountain stream, no an ocean. Sometimes when you hear somebody on the radio, it sounds like theyre right there on the dash of your car. I wanted that sound too! John Guess has been working with me as an engineer for more than 10 years. We know each other so well; and he co-produced the record. We did a lot of pre-production together. He and I went in and experimented with six different microphones until he picked the one that gave me the fullest, richest sound. Id just come back from vacation before we went into the studio, and I was really ready to sing."
Sing she did, from the classic-Reba dramatic ballad "What If Its You" to the zesty up-tempo joyride "Id Rather Ride Around With You." The star soars above a blood-stirring bass line in "It Dont Matter" and swirls in an inviting country-pop arrangement in "Just Looking For Him." "What If Its You is populated by a group of memorable characters, for the women in "How Was I To Know," "State Of Grace" and "Never Had A Reason To" have as much spirit and independence as any she has ever portrayed. The moonstruck romantic in "Shes Callin It Love" is given a word of warning; while the women in "Close To Crazy" has already seen the losing side of love. One of the collections strongest lyrics and most irresistible rhythm tracks belongs to "The Fear Of Being Alone," its propulsive first single.
"I was trying to get a more innocent sound this time. I needed to be pulled back from that last album. Its not like I have to keep climbing mountain after mountain to prove myself. There comes a point in your life when you pass through all of that and maybe get a little wisdom. And I knew it was time for a change. I actually thought about calling the album something like Round Two.
Actually, its more like "round five." Reba McEntire passed through the first "round" of her career as a starlet on Mercury Records in the late 1970s, produced by Jerry Kennedy. The second phase occurred as she searched for new directions after signing with MCA in the he early 80s. Productions by Norro Wilson and Harold Shedd has her in musical settings ranging from pop-country too new-traditionalist. Jimmy Bowen put her next to him in the co-producers chair in 1985, resulting in a string of hits that includes such "signature" performances as "Whoevers In New England," "What Am I Gonna Do About You" and "Little Rock." During this same period she went through a divorce, took charge of her life and career and wed manager Narvel Blackstock. They founded their Starstruck firm together in 1988.
"Round Four" began on 1990 when she began collaborating with Tony Brown. For the next five years she sang more soulful, aggressive songs ("Take It Back," "Why Havent I Heard From You"), enacted richly dramatic stories (Fancy," "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia"), took on challenging lyrics ("Is There Life Out There," "She thinks His Name Was John") and applied her magnificent voice to ever more melodic material (You Lie," "Till You Love Me"). She also began singing more often with her peers, notably Vince Gill ("The Heart Wont Lie") Natalie Cole ("Since I Fell For You") and Linda Davis (Does He Love You"). Last year Reba teamed up with Linda, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride for "On My Own," one of the standouts on Starting Over.
This most recent "round" coincided with her evolution as a true show-business phenomenon. Rebas concerts became elaborate theatrical productions with eye-popping sets, costume changes and special effects. By the mid-90s there was no one on the road, in any field of music, who could match her for sheer entertainment value. Roles in Tremors, Buffalo Girls, The Gambler Returns, The Man From Left Field, The Little Rascals, Is There Life Out There and North brought her increasing attention as an actress. Reba and Friends and Reba: Starting Over both became hit TV specials. She published her best selling autobiography in 1994.
Along the way, Reba collected virtually every award the music profession has to give, including two Grammy Awards, an unequaled four successive trophies as Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year honors from both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music. She is the largest selling female country star in history; and no other woman in Nashville has five Triple Platinum albums.
Under Narvels leadership, Starstruck expanded to include not only concert production, but booking, management, publicity, travel, construction, equestrian and song publishing divisions. The couple has son Shelby in 1990 on what she calls "the happiest day of my life." But shes almost as proud of the "family" that populates her 25,000 square foot office building.
"I didnt have these folks on my album because they work for me," she days. "I have them because they are the best. I had faith in the studio and all the guys who work in it. It was brand new, but there wasnt a bug in it. We did not have one problem. I told the band, "If you cant cut the mustard, Ill bring in somebody to replace you. This is my career; my butts on the line. I was up front and honest. And they came through with flying colors. I dont look at song publishers names when I listen to songs. I listen for the best songs, period. Starstruck has six of em."
"Im at a new point in my life and this album shows it. Im older now and I want people to know how happy I am. Ive learned that the measure of success is really just knowing that my family is healthy and happy. All you need to have in life is time with your loved ones, a good meal and a good movie. Oh yeah, and a good song to sing."