Being Reba isn’t a one-dimensional job. She’s a country music icon, a movie, TV and Broadway veteran, the face of her own fashion and manchester brand and a newly launched cosmetics line…she even has a star on Hollywood Boulevard. Being Reba is a whole industry, and she’s not afraid to get hands-on or to get those hands dirty pitching in.
“My personal style, I would describe as tough sexy,” Reba says. “I’m not a girly girl. I was born on a working cattle ranch. I was one of Daddy’s hired hands, our room and board was our pay. I was just one of the boys, out working all the time.”
She’s still working all the time, although she’s graduated from ‘one of the boys’ to a formidable force of a feminine nature, it only takes a couple of ‘Oh Shoot!’s and about twenty seconds to know she still carries her ‘cowgirl’ close under the skin.
Given that sass and attitude, it is surprising to hear Reba say she thought her last album five years ago, All The Women I Am, was her curtain-call record, and was not disconcerted by the notion, deeming herself fortunate and grateful for an exceptional career, with plenty to take precedence in her daily life and happy to let other music-makers fill her shoes.
It took Scott Borchetta (Big Machine Records) and the ‘carrot’ of being the flagship signing to new label Nash Icon Records to fan her flame and coax her back, in partnership with a cartel of radio stations with a specific format to play older country acts mixed with the new.
Reba McEntire is filled with energy that exceeds ‘infectious’. Nearly 40 years after releasing her debut album and 35 chart-topping singles later, she is as ambitious and focused as ever, still conquering new heights. Her latest single ‘Going Out Like That’ bulleted to No. 1 and scored the biggest single sales debut of her career.
She recently celebrated her birthday and has no qualms in saying, ‘I turned 60!’ She credits her youthful look and vivacious spirit to eating right, getting lots of exercise and just trying to stay happy with a great attitude. No doubt becoming a new grandmother last June to Kelly Clarkson’s daughter River Rose has kept her on the move, and she’s loving the perks of being a grandmother.
‘You get to play with the kids, and then they get to go home and be disciplined and taken to school and all of the other stuff by their parents,’ she said.
Of her new album Love Somebody, Reba says, “It’s a love album. The overall theme is love—whether you’re falling in or falling out, being rejected or trying to find it, it’s about love. It’s an eclectic collection of emotion. Some of the songs are happy. Some of them are sad. Some of them are hopeful. A lot of them have sass or are sexy. It’s just all over the place, but the main theme is love.”
Love Somebody, pretty much finds Reba in her niche, with big, reaching crescendo ballads and softer more nuanced numbers, mainly towards the end of the 14 track set. ‘She Got Drunk Last Night’ is written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally and the title track, which demands Reba rise to the challenge of mixing tongue-twister stanzas with a testifying chorus, is part-penned by country’s new heartthrob Sam Hunt.
One review quoted this album as ‘comforting’ with Reba as ‘maternal’quantifying, ‘as in wise and accessible’?
I find it incongruous that anyone could associate the term ‘maternal’ with the glamorous to a fault, petite, shoot from the hip firecracker! Even at 60 she looks a million dollars and is as fit as a football scrum – in high heels! Physically and mentally she is lightening quick.
For me, I prefer the album tracks with changing textures, light and shade, whereas in the full-on belters I feel like Reba is wagging her finger at me demanding I pay attention as she strives to go ever-stronger and higher! I emphatically do not like the distortion utilised in one song; it sounds like ‘try-hard’ bait to tempt a younger audience- she may be one feisty grandmamma but bro country she is not! Someone of her venerability can surely rely on chops not gimmicks. There is a timelessness to her work and the voice is as uncompromisingly athletic and powerful as when it first brought ‘Fancy’ to fame, 25yrs ago. She says ‘Fancy’ is still her favourite song to sing live.
As well as the talents of the industry’s hottest song smiths – add Lori McKenna, Josh Osborne and Ashley Gorley to earlier mentioned above – Jennifer Nettles (ex Sugarland) shares vocals on ‘Enough’ and surprisingly the two super-charged vocals do not parry and thrust as one might anticipate, but actually compliment each other beautifully and it is one of the standout songs. Reba calls it a ‘stop-you-in-your-tracks song’ in the same vein as ‘Does He Love You,’ her duet with Linda Davis.
Of particular poignancy is ‘Just Like Them Horses’ a song that Reba sang at her fathers’ funeral and which she says she hopes to add to the live set one day, but for now it’s still too raw.
“Daddy passed away just after we recorded it. He’d been sick for five years. He was a born and bred cowboy through and through, and that song makes total sense to me as he always told us kids never to run your horse to the barn. He was just taking his time to go on home.”
If you love me then don’t be afraid/ to look in my eyes and open up the gate/
Then watch me ride like a newborn sun/ Just like them horses/ when it’s time to run
Both Reba’s grandfather and father were top-notch rodeo ropers and her Dad, Clark McEntire won the World Championship three times, and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. Reba’s rodeo bona fides run deep, as for a decade she was a tough competitor herself at time events, and her first husband, Charlie Battles, to whom she was married for twelve years, was a National Steer Wrestling Champion and rancher.
So how did the Chockie, Oklahoma cowgirl get ‘corralled’ by Nashville? While still in college, she performed the National Anthem at the National Rodeo in Oklahoma City, and caught the attention of country artist Red Steagall who brought her to town. She signed a contract with Mercury Records a year later in 1975 and has not been out of contract with a major label for the forty year interim – needless to say, album sales of fifty six million plus have not jeopardised her commercial attraction!
There’s a song on the new album called ‘Livin’ Aint Killed Me Yet.’ Why does she think she’s lasted so long at the top of the game?
“Curiosity, ambition and competition. I really love competition. I always have. Ever since I started in 1976 I’ve taken little baby steps all the way. It was a growing process where I got to spread my foundation really firm and thick and strong, instead of just jumping in the deep end. I have a lot of friends to thank for my success, and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
I suspect it is just that good ol’ cowgirl grit, of hanging tough and ‘never let the B’s beat you!’
What remains that she hasn’t ticked on the bucket list yet?
“I’d love to do a good ol’ western movie. I grew up on westerns. I’d love to do more television. I’d love to do more Broadway.”
It is also rumoured there’s a new ‘shonky shyster’ coming to the hit ABC drama Nashville. That is, if Reba gets the green light (and honestly, who is going to say no to Reba?)
She recently sang the new single ‘Going Out Like That’ as part of Nashville’s “On the Record” music series, which features live performances by the cast — but none of the notable soapy shenanigans from the scripted episodes. Reba later told ETonline that she has her sights set on a bigger role, and don’t count on Reba to take cues from Sara Evans and Brad Paisley, by playing a version of herself on the show, as she has a much meatier, even malicious, part in mind.
“When they said, ‘You’re gonna be on the Nashville TV show,’ I said, ‘YES! What do I play?’” the superstar says. “Now I’ve already told all of ‘em, I said, ‘OK, I want to come back as a villain on music row or something like that.’ That’d be fun.”
“A fictional character,” she clarifies. “Reba’s not mean. Reba’s happy, havin’ too much fun.”
Narvel Blackstock is Reba’s husband and also the father of Brandon Blackstock, Kelly Clarkson’s husband. Blackstock is a TV producer, former steel guitar player and her manager. The couple married in 1989 and have a son together, 25 y/o Shelby Steven McEntire Blackstock. Shelby is actually an American racing driver from Nashville, and Reba dished about the couples’ involvement in their son’s racing career, explaining, “His daddy and I are totally involved and were very supportive once we knew he had the passion to race. I try to get to as many races as I can. As a matter of fact, I have started working the schedule of my concerts around Shelby’s race schedule.”
At last month’s 50th Academy of Country Music Awards in Dallas, Reba was one of seven honoured with 50th anniversary Milestone Awards (also Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Reba George Strait, Taylor Swift and Brooks & Dunn) obviously well-deserved when she has hosted the event fourteen times, been nominated for every award apart from Vocal Group and Male Vocal, and won Female Vocal more times than any other woman in the ACM’s history. She is also one of only four entertainers ever to receive the National Artistic Achievement Award from the U.S. Congress.
Right now the biggest thing for Reba is her joint show with a reunited Brooks & Dunn at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas this month. “I’m really looking forward to that. The hardest thing about putting it together was deciding which songs we were going to perform. They have a huge catalogue. I’ve got a huge catalogue. We’ve sat down and selected our favourites. Then you have to make sure those favourites are the fans’ favourites. They are the most important because they are the ones who got us to where we are today.”