This album is not even in my top ten Reba albums, though there are individual songs I dearly love on it. However, Reba’s 14th studio album was significant for Reba and her career for a number of reasons.
Reba reflected a time of important transition in her personal life. Her divorce became final in November of 1987, and as she says in her autobiography, Reba: My Story,
Something was shifting inside of me. Maybe the reason was my new freedom as an unmarried woman – for the first time in my life, not having to answer to anyone but myself; or maybe it was the sense of confidence that came from restructuring my organization and putting some of my long-held pet ideas into practice. Whatever the reason, in 1988, I found myself drawn to the old Aretha Franklin hit “Respect.” It just seemed to connect with my mental outlook at the time.
Reba talked with her producer, Jimmy Bowen, about using it to open the new 1988 show. Though he was a bit surprised she liked that one, Bowen suggested she record it as one of the needed up-tempo numbers for her next album. She did, along with others that were more R & B, jazz or pop.
Reba was released in April of 1988 and received more negative criticism from traditional country circles than any of her previous albums, though it stayed at #1 on Billboard’s Country chart for 8 weeks that summer and she continued to receive awards such as Favorite Female Country Artist (AMA), Favorite Female Vocalist (TNN), etc. She had previously been so outspoken about loving her country roots and recording traditional country music that it came as somewhat of a surprise she recorded an album with no fiddles and no steel, more keyboard and more synthesizer.
Her previous career-making album, “Whoever’s In New England,” had also had some numbers that many considered more cross-over songs. But Reba said about that one (again in her autobiography),
I never set out to record a “crossover” record. As I’ve said, I’ve always considered myself a country artist and never wanted to abandon my roots. I had simply come to the conclusion that it would be better for me just to do good material, and if it happened to reach across the pop charts – well, fine – that would be an unexpected little extra.
She similarly defended “Respect” on this album. In a segment on “Respect” in CMT’s “Reba McEntire: Greatest Stories,” Reba talks about the reaction she got when she performed it as a dance number on the CMAs that year. People asked her afterwards if she’d thought about the fact that she was doing a pop number on a country awards show and she said no, she really hadn’t. It was up-tempo and she loved the song and was a big fan of Aretha Franklin. Plus, she was excited to show people she could move after years of standing behind a microphone.
And “Respect” is certainly a great song. Rolling Stones rated Aretha’s version #5 on their 2004 list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time. However, many of the other cuts on the album aren’t great and seem more like filler and actually detract from the other good songs in the set.
“So, So, So Long” harshly kicks off a group of four love songs. Even though this number certainly shows off her vocal gymnastics, the harshness of her vocals get in the way for me.
Reba hasn’t recorded many love songs in her career, so I’ve wondered if this group again reflected Reba’s personal life at the time – the budding romance with Narvel Blackstock after the divorce, or her longing for a different kind of love. Whatever the reasons, only two of the four are worth putting on your shuffle in my opinion: “Sunday Kind of Love” and “New Fool at an Old Game.” They reached #5 and #1 respectively. “You’re the One I Dream About” is just sappy and one of the fillers.
“Sunday Kind of Love” is another of Reba’s steps outside country, but a lovely rendition of an old 1940s Jo Stafford & Ella Fitzgerald hit. Her jazzy vocals take on a saxophone quality as she effortlessly glides through this number. I have always liked the mini-movie music video of this one, too.
“New Fool at an Old Game” finds a couple in an intimate moment when the singer is about to risk falling deeper. Can she trust him? Will it be love or another hurt? The tender lyrics on this one (Steve Bogard, Rick Giles, Sheila Stephen), along with Reba’s beautifully artful and heart-felt interpretation, have always made me feel as if we’re getting a somewhat autobiographical glimpse into what it feels like for Reba to be new to love again:
You sure know what you’re doin’
Holdin’ me this way
And I’ll go where you lead me
Anywhere you say
You’ve got me where you want me
So Darlin’ please be kind
Before you take it all
And I make that final fall
You’ve got to keep in mind
(That) I’m a new fool at an old game
A kid out of school tryin’ to find my way
But I don’t know the rules, (so) teach me how to play
I’m just a new fool at an old game
After the first four love songs, the album transitions to songs about the threat of loss or the actual loss of love. “Respect” and “Do Right By Me” follow the unimpressive “Silly Me” in this half of the album. But the real gems come at the end.
“I Know How He Feels” was another #1 featuring Reba seeing a former love out with someone else and wondering if she shouldn’t have let him go. Though it’s a good song, I’ve wondered how it would sound with more of an acoustic arrangement and lot less synthesizer. As it is, it seems muddy.
“Wish I Were Only Lonely” has a bluesy pop feel, but it’s one of those hidden gems on the album both for Reba’s vocals, the song itself and the harmonica playing by Kirk “Jelly Roll” Johnson.
The haunting “Every Time You Touch Her (Think of Me)” with its relatively simple guitar accompaniment and misty background vocals closes out the album on a moving and powerful note. Though there have been more songs-by-the-other-woman than a person can count (and Reba’s sung quite a few of them), this one deserves more attention. The lyrics alone turn your heart and your ear (Pam Rose, Pat Bunch, Mary Ann Kennedy):
Do you hold her all night long
Do you sing her our love song
Do you kiss her lips until love makes her weak, oh darlin’
Do you promise her the moon
Does she think loves coming soon
Does she know each move is made from memory, oh darlin’
Every time you touch her (Every time)
Every time you touch her think of me
Reba is important in Reba’s career for its role as a transitional album that reflects a life transition from love into loss into love with a new sense of independence and some forays into other styles – some successful and some not – that hint at part of what’s to come as she moves into the 90s stretching her voice (standing up to Aretha and Ella on this album), her stage presence, her dramatic skills and even her ability to dance. But in the mean time, transition is transition, and that often means things are uneven in the process. Reba is uneven in its quality despite its importance.
“Respect” from a 1995 live performance available on vhs.