After making a surprise 180° turnaround with 1988’s pop-oriented Reba, the singer alienated many traditional country fans, and Sweet Sixteen was an attempt to recapture them. Now, Sweet Sixteen is in no way a traditional album the way The Last One To Know was a traditional album, but it’s still considerably more country than Reba. With some fiddle and steel (and, inexplicably, a lot of sax), Reba set out to reel in some old fans, while keeping the new ones she gained with Reba. The question is: did she succeed in making an album that appeals to all groups?
The set opens with the lead single, a cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, in which Reba assumes the part of a third woman, who desperately wants the male in the song, but he’s too busy being “Cathy’s Clown”. Surprisingly it works, and in this writer’s opinion, the song has never sounded better. Apparently, the general public thought so too, as this became a smash #1 hit. The second track, “‘Til Love Comes Again”, a top 5 hit, offers a more traditional arrangement, which works in Reba’s favor. It has sadly become one of Reba’s more obscure hits, and is unfortunately not a song that today’s radio audience is familiar with.
“It Always Rains On Saturday” is a song Reba penned with the writers of “Whoever’s In New England” (Kendal Franchesci and Quentin Powers), and it pleases me to say that it’s completely on par with the classic that it inevitably will be compared with. Reba is listed as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks. The narrator is a single mother who feels very lonely when her son goes off with his father on weekends.
On Monday the sun really shined
On Tuesday the weather was fine
Wednesday and Thursday went by
By Friday the clouds filled the sky
Instead, she uses the weather as a metaphor for what’s going on inside her mind, which is a very interesting ploy that really works.
“Am I The Only One Who Cares” is another Reba co-write, this time with the great Don Schlitz, who wrote some of Kenny Rogers’ and Randy Travis’ biggest hits, as well as countless other country classics. It is a very strange song about a girl talking to the moon, complaining about her mother whom she thinks doesn’t care about her.
Jamie turned 14 tonight
But she didn’t blow out the birthday lights
Jamie and her momma had another big fight
She locked herself in her room
She climbed up on her window seat
Sat and stared at the cars on the street
And listened to her own heart beat
And whispered to the moon
It’s all very strange and cliche’, and belongs nowhere on a Reba album, so this is one to skip.
Penned by Reba’s former backup singer Suzi Wills, a very devoted Christian; it should come as no surprise that “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is a soaring gospel-ish number about God and Heaven, and the importance of remembering these in a hectic everyday. This track features a whole lot of sax, and is in that way quite similar to the album closer.
“You Must Really Love Me” , another Schlitz/McEntire composition, is a song that was most recently seen on Reba’s 2008 Valentine’s Day compilation Love Revival. Seeing as it found its way onto a Valentine’s Day album, this song must surely be a celebration of love, right? Right you are; it is a classical love song in that sense. What sets this apart from, say, “Somebody”, which is Reba’s most recent #1, is the fact that it keeps it simple.
Tell me why do you put up with my foolish ways
You never take to heart the crazy things I say
Oh I know you could walk out on me any day
There must be a darn good reason why you’d even want to stay
You must really love me
How can it be true
There are things you’ll take from me
I won’t even take from you
Every time I fall apart
You always pull me through
You must really love me as much as I love you
You must really love me
As much as I love you
These declarations of love tend to be very schmaltzy, but Reba’s down-to-earth delivery, and the song’s own simplicity makes it feel beautiful and not contrived. The fact that this song has been given a very traditional treatment is just icing on the cake. Following “You Must Really Love Me” is the relatively boring honky tonk track “Say The Word”, which is the perfect example of “dreck”. The following track is a major improvement; “Little Girl” is another track penned by the duo that wrote “Whoever’s In New England”, and is another quality offering. A tender ballad about a woman who still falls and stumbles like a “little girl” when it comes to love, it is a song that uses the potential of this metaphor to its fullest. Reba’s vocals really soar, and it shows us, like “It Always Rains On Saturday” and “Whoever’s In New England” showed us before, why Reba is hailed as “The Queen” by many.
The two songs that close the album are both happy, uptempo numbers that showcase Reba’ s voice in a brilliant way. Lyrically, “Walk On” is rather tired, but still it has become a fan favorite. Dave Loggins’ “A New Love” sees Reba hungering for some lovin’, and she seems to really be having fun.
This was Reba’s last project with producer Jimmy Bowen, who would be leaving MCA that year to head Capitol Records. Sweet Sixteen is the perfect example of Reba’s catalog as a whole. An album filled with many quality songs, a pop-country arrangement, and strong, confident vocals from Reba. The only thing differentiating this album from her others is the puzzling amount of saxophone present on the tracks. And the fact that this album can be called a “typical Reba album” is certainly not a bad thing.
Lisen to Sweet Sixteen on Last.fm.