‘Stronger Than The Truth’, the latest album from Reba McEntire, is an album that could easily pass you by. It won’t necessarily produce radio hits, but please, don’t let that detract from the immense quality on show here. Co-produced by Reba and the hugely experienced Buddy Cannon, this album takes you back to a time when hard-hitting storylines were what country music was all about. The writing, combined with absolutely sublime studio production, results in the best album of 2019 so far and also one of the best of Reba’s hugely impressive career.
The album kicks off with the light-hearted, bouncy ‘Swinging All Night Long With You’, which is exactly what you would expect from the title. A great western swing vibe that really allows Reba’s studio band to shine. The original demo was originally just 3 minutes, but Reba felt that the song had to be extended for the band to let loose – what a great decision that was! It’s such a jolly tune that grabs your attention and gets you ready for a rollercoaster of an album.
That’s not the only fun, western swing moment on the album, either. ‘No U In Oklahoma’, later on in the project, is one of only two co-writes of Reba’s on the album, written alongside long-time friends Ronnie Dunn and Donna McSpadden. To sum it up, it sticks two fingers up to a troublesome lover from the past! It’s so refreshing to hear that western rhythm; it works a treat and adds great character to the album.
I love ‘Storm In A Shot Glass’ too, which was one of the last songs Reba recorded for the project. All about that one girl in a bar who’s had a little too much to drown the pain of a break-up, it’s the sassiest, edgy moment on the album that certainly packs a punch. An anthemic chorus, some killer fiddles and a dramatic atmosphere; destined to be a big fan favourite without a doubt.
But it’s the ballads that truly make this album what it is. There’s some incredible depth throughout with some wonderfully touching lyrics that create mini-movies in your head. ‘Cactus In A Coffee Can’ is the perfect example of that; it takes you on an emotional journey in 4 and a half minutes. It’s a story of a girl who re-connected with her mother after she was given away at birth, and the mother passed away not long after their reunion. I won’t spoil the magic too much – it’s a must-listen and a monumental example of why we all fell in love with country music in the first place.
‘Tammy Wynette Kind Of Pain’ is one that will capture the hearts of Reba’s devoted female listeners. Name-dropping titles of Tammy Wynette classics from years gone by, it’s the ultimate heartache song that will mean a lot to people going through a really tough period. I’m a sucker for piano ballads (which is probably why I connected with this album so much), and there’s plenty of keys in this one. Gorgeous production once again, and a flawless, passionate delivery from one of country’s most accomplished vocalists. There’s a warmth and a familiarity about Reba’s voice that just makes you feel something powerful, no matter what the story is, and that’s a rare gift.
For me, the stand-out track (which is such a difficult decision to make!) is ‘The Clown’. Country music and storytelling doesn’t get any better than this. Another beautiful piano ballad, it’s the tale of a girl who faces those numbing words ‘I don’t love you anymore’ on a night out, left feeling the harsh reality that nobody else in the room feels the pain of her world crashing down. “The piano kept playing… nobody noticed the heart in the corner booth breaking”. Once again, it sparks the imagination and you can picture the scenario like a scene from a movie. Melodically, it’s so intricate and equally dramatic to match the storyline. Immense.
If you watched the ACM Awards last week (which Reba hosted), you will have seen her performance of ‘Freedom’, which is probably the most mainstream, chart-orientated track on the album. That’s not to say it lacks in depth, though – it’s uplifting, powerful and will resonate with those who’ve found that ‘special one’. It’s by no means a political statement, which you could be forgiven for expecting from the title. Instead, it’s a proclamation of true love and the ‘freedom’ that finding it can bring. This one will be a stunner in Reba’s live shows and it’s a fantastic choice for a lead single.
‘Stronger Than The Truth’ is an album that shines a light for the traditions and values of country music, proving that there’s still a place for heart-breaking storytelling. Reba’s like a fine wine – she just keeps getting better with age. It’s obvious that so much time and effort was put into choosing the songs for this collection; in terms of maturity, emotion and writing quality, you won’t find many better albums this year.
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