My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

1989 Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sweet Sixteen’

Sweet SixteenAfter 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.

A-

Lisen to Sweet Sixteen on Last.fm.

18 responses to “1989 Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sweet Sixteen’

  1. Razor X April 28, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I always liked this album a lot, but I agree that there was too much sax in the arrangements. I really thought “‘Til Love Comes Again” would be a monster hit when it came out. It charted well and then sort of disappeared. I’ve never understood why. It’s one of my favorite Reba songs but it’s never gotten much, if any, recurrent airlplay.

    I believe Reba co-wrote “It Always Rains on Saturday” along with Kendal Francheschi and Quentin Powers, didn’t she?

  2. Michael April 28, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Hi Erik. Thanks for writing this well thought review. I guess all of that saxaphone (or sax-a-ma-phone, as Homer Simpson would say) was a reflection of the time. It was big in pop music during the 80s.(along with key-tars) and country has always been a little late catching on to trends. Anyway, “Little Girl” is one of my favorite songs too and I’m puzzled by its omission from all of Reba’s compilations since it was a Top Ten single.

  3. J.R. Journey April 28, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Great review. This album was always a little hit and miss for me. I really liked all 4 singles and maybe a couple of the album cuts, but there are several on this one I skip over, like ‘Say The Word’, ‘Am I The Only One Who Cares’, etc. And Reba did co-write 3 songs on this album, Razor. I added that information to the review.

    I think it was the album after this one – Rumor Has It – when Reba really hit her creative stride.

    • Razor X April 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm

      Rumor Has It was her first album produced by Tony Brown and her first studio album to go platinum. That’s when things took off for her sales-wise. I’ve always liked Sweet Sixteen better than Rumor Has It, but both albums are good.

  4. Joe April 28, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Reba went on the Arsenio Hall Show when this album came out and explained that “Am I the Only One Who Cares” was written and recorded for her younger fans who’d written her to say they were … you know, dealing with young people stuff: not getting along with parents, etc. She said, I want them to know if they don’t think anyone cares, well I care.

    How my memory can hold onto that nugget of information and yet I forget some of my co-workers names every other day, I’ll never know.

    Crystal Gayle used a lot of sax in some of her hits from that time (Turning Away, Straight to the Heart) as did Ronnie Milsap (Since I Don’t Have You, Turn That Radio On) … not that it makes it right or anything. It seems to fit in “Walk On,” though.

    “‘Til Love Comes Again” never truly stood out as an exceptional song or single for me, sort of like “One Honest Heart” from “If You See Him.” “Little Girl” seems a bit heavy on the “electric piano” now.

    I’ve always never understood how “Cathy’s Clown” — identified as a #1 smash in this article — could disappear as quickly as it did. Both Greatest Hits volumes 2 and 3 entirely ignored this song. Sure, Reba has quite a few #1s but you can’t possibly ignore the inclusion of one in a greatest hits package. It had been so universally ignored that I was actually surprised to find it on the “Reba #1s” package a few years ago.

    • J.R. Journey April 28, 2009 at 1:51 pm

      The first Greatest Hits was released in 1987, so there were 6 years of hits to draw from when MCA compiled her second Greatest Hits collection. In that time frame, Reba released 6 albums. But the GH2 collection pulls most of its tracks from 2 albums, Rumor Has It and For My Broken Heart. In doing so, they left out 4 #1s and several top 10 hits. I never understood that.

      • Razor X April 28, 2009 at 1:55 pm

        Greatest Hits, Volume 2 should have had more than 10 tracks on it. They should have included 10 songs that were already hits in addition to the two new tracks.

      • Joe April 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm

        I suppose if sales increased dramatically with “Rumor Has It,” as you mentioned, the label would see no need to include anything from before that time in GH2. Though both were big hits, both “Love Will Find It’s Way to You” and “Walk On” stand out as nothing but up-tempo filler on that album.

    • Razor X April 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm

      Even Merle Haggard had a lot of sax on his 80s records.

      • Paul W Dennis April 29, 2009 at 2:04 am

        The difference being that Hag’s 80s sound was essentially updated Western Swing, with a bunch of former Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys actually in his road band and others, no longer up to the rigors of travel, playing on recording sessions

    • Paul W Dennis April 29, 2009 at 2:10 am

      It always surprised me that “Cathy’s Clown” went to number one – major label promotion I suppose. I’ve never met anyone who heard the classic Everly Brothers version and preferred Reba’s version.

      REBA was terrible, but this was the album that convinced me that Reba had sold out. Prior to REBA, I was a big fan – after that she lost me, although I continued to buy her albums for a few more years in hopes that she would regain form

      • Razor X April 29, 2009 at 9:20 am

        I liked Reba when it first came out, but not as much as the albums that preceded it. I don’t like it nearly as much now as I did back then. Sweet Sixteen was less middle-of-the-road and had some songs I really liked, though I admit there were some duds.

  5. Leeann Ward April 28, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    “Walk On” is one of my favorite Reba songs. I don’t have this album though. I’m pretty satisfiede with just having her Greatest Hits, as she’s never been one of my favorites, even though I respect her a great deal.

  6. Erik April 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    I somehow feel strangely compelled to comment on the atrociousness that is Reba’s outfit, and the poodle that’s sitting on her head. I don’t think I’ve ever hated an album cover quite like I hate this one. 😛

  7. Meg May 1, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I’ll agree with you on the cover, Erik! But I disagree on “Am I the Only One Who Cares” — I like that one. Can picture an early teen sitting in the window late at night having had a run in with a parent.

    And as far as the sax goes, George Strait’s ‘Beyond the Blue Neon’ that was just reviewed had sax all over it — the swing and dance songs especially.

    My least favorite on Sweet Sixteen is “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, not that I don’t believe somebody up there does, but because it’s just not a very interesting song musically. It’s one of the few skippers on all my Reba albums.

  8. Erik May 2, 2009 at 6:00 am

    I’m the yin to your yang on “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, Meg. While I don’t believe there is somebody up there, I like the song and the way Reba sings it with such power.

  9. Michael May 4, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Hmmmm… I agree with you Erik. Do you want to know what album cover I absolutely loved though? Rumor Has It. I was a kid when it came out and I can remember staring at that picture for hours.

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