Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
It's been five years since her last album - 2010's "All the Women That I Am" - but the Queen of Country Music's crown hasn't lost its luster. On her 27th album, Oklahoma native McEntire adds another jewel to her tiara - she's already garnered 35 number singles and sold 56 million albums worldwide - with her new album that covers familiar territory: strong women, the heartbreak of breakup, the determination of a broken lover starting over and the destructive and healing power of love.
A ricocheting snare shot, driving guitars and Reba's sonic voice kick off the album in "Going Out Like That," an anthemic tune whose fierce lead guitar bridge punctuates the singer's relentless determination not to allow a breakup to ruin her life. In typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, the lyrics cut both ways; the singer won't be allow herself to go out on the town and allow people to see her hurt, but she's also not going out of the relationship in defeat: "He thought she'd be sittin' home cryin'/She ain't going out like that/She's had enough of feelin' like dyin'/She ain't going out like that."
Paul Franklin's aching steel guitar weaves around Gordon Mote's piano in the Brandy Clark/Shane McAnally-penned "She Got Drunk Last Night," a gorgeous ballad that quietly reveals and affirms the depths to which we'll go to escape loneliness: "She got drunk last night/Yeah, she needed an excuse/To let herself get used."
Jennifer Nettles joins forces with Reba on "Enough," a slow, minor key tale of two women's love for the same man and each woman's feeling of inadequacy - "Wishin' I could be/Wishin' I still was/Enough." "Until They Don't Love You" blends the call-and-response shout of gospel, the frantic pacing of dance club tunes, the hard-charging rhythm stomp of soul music - with an organ refrain out of Sly and the Family Stone - and McEntire's staccato delivery of the song's lyrics. In "Just Like Them Horses," a spare arrangement of piano, steel and fiddle, weave around and under McEntire's voice in what may be the album's most touching and beautiful song; she sang the song at her father's funeral and her father's spirit after death runs free "just like them horses" released from a corral. Kelly Clarkson, Ronnie Dunn, her longtime backup singer Jennifer Wrinkle, and a local choir join Reba on the glorious gospel closer, "Pray for Peace," the one original that came to her in a moment of spiritual revelation.
McEntire's hallmarks have always been her soaring voice, in which she so deftly captures heartbreak and healing, as well as her canny ability to select songs that express powerful emotions in uptempo, often catchy melodies that often belie the pain couched in the lyrics. On her new album, she doesn't disappoint; her voice is as powerful and crystal clear as ever, and she plumbs the depths of our emotions in tunes whose haunting melodies or rambunctious tempo draw us into the often fraught worlds she creates in her songs.