My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Read My Mind’

reba read my mindToward the end of the 1980s, Reba McEntire began moving away from the hard traditional country sound that made her a star and an industry favorite.  As the ’90s dawned, gone were the fiddle-laden numbers on a Reba album and they’d been replaced by slick electric guitar-driven ballads.  Some point to this as the artistic demise of the singer, others like myself, see this as the point where Reba came into her own and began reaching for the stars, taking country music to places it had rarely, if ever, been before. Records like Rumor Has It and It’s Your Call laid the ground-work for this sort of full-on pop-country album, but hadn’t taken the concept to the extreme that Read My Mind does.

With this album, we find an artist at her peak, both creatively and commercially.  These songs might not have the instrumentation that’s expected of a country album, and Reba’s trademark twang is notably missing on several tracks, but we find the songstress tackling topics of falling in love, saying goodbye, awkward encounters, the plight of the single woman, and even the taboo subject of AIDS, among others.  It’s basically a set of universal songs against a backdrop of adult contemporary tracks.

A sort of electronic keyboard opens the album before an easy-listening sax takes over on the clever ‘Everything That You Want’, signaling from the very beginning that this isn’t going to be your typical country album.  Though the production is layered on this track, the different elements come in at various intervals and make for an interesting listen.  The romantic ‘Read My Mind’ follows, which finds the shy narrator wishing the man she admires could just read her thoughts and save her the chore of putting those feelings into words.  With its warm melody, it’s one of the most romantic songs in Reba’s catalog.

Read My Mind was released in April of 1994, just as country music was at its commercial apex.  It bowed at the #2 position on the country albums chart and the Billboard 200.  Over the course of the next 12 months, the album would spawn 5 singles, 4 of which made it to the top 10, with 1 topping the charts.  During the singles’ respective chart runs, the disc managed to sell 4 million copies.

The album’s lead single is the snappy ‘Why Haven’t I Heard From You’, which rose to the #5 position on the country singles chart, partly driven by one of the busiest music videos ever, complete with a team of male and female dancers. The song itself is still a radio staple and concert favorite at Reba’s shows.

‘She Thinks His Name Was John’, written by Steve Rosen and Sandy Knox after Knox’s brother succumbed to the HIV virus, was sent to radio as the second single. It’s message of the consequences of a one-night stand and the taboo AIDS subject matter kept it from heavy rotation on some country stations. Never one to shy away from controversial topics in her music, Reba was drawn to the song from the first time she heard it, saying in an interview recently, ” I was over at Bluewater Music Company and they played me about 10 or 15. I took a few, and they said, “Hey, before you go, let us play you one song because we know there’s probably nobody else that would sing it but you. And they played me “She Thinks His Name Was John.” I said, “I want it.” And I recorded it. At the time, I didn’t know anyone affected with AIDS, the HIV virus, but I just knew if I could sing about it, hopefully, more people could talk about it and it would bring light to a very unfortunate situation and might help a lot of people. I’m open to any kind of situation in a song as long as it touches my heart.” During the 1994 Billboard Music Awards Reba performed the song with the AIDS quilt behind her to a standing ovation from the audience of industry insiders, but even Reba’s star power could only propel the tune to a very respectable #15 spot on the charts.

reba read my mind 2Another classic Reba ballad would be the next single, the elegant ‘Till You Love Me’. Reba sings this story of a determined love-struck woman with maybe a little more power than the song calls for, but it’s still one of my favorites, and hit the #2 spot on the Billboard charts, and #1 on Radio and Records, which is why it appears on her 2005 Reba: #1’s set, the same thing with ‘And Still’.

Reba’s 1990s albums seemed to all follow the rule of having one chart-topper among several top 10 hits, and Read My Mind was no exception as the third single shot to the #1 spot.  ‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ is as good as 90s pop-country gets, with witty lyrics, a modern message, and a smoking electric guitar solo, provided by Larry Byrom.

For the fourth and final single, Reba had the idea to travel to the Sahara Desert to shoot the music video, but says in her autobiography that problems with getting an entire crew to Africa proved a bigger task than they first thought, so she settled on a closer location: Guatemala.  This was perhaps the first time a country music video was shot in South America, but the result is no less than stunning.  Vocally, this is one of Reba’s finest moments on record and she wrings every drop of emotion from the lyrics, and makes you feel the ache the narrator feels.  It’s the tale of a man and woman, former lovers, who meet again years later in an unlikely place.  They reminisce about old times and he tells her he’s missed her before the kicker comes at the end when up walks his wife and the singer has to fake ‘her best smile’ even though she’s ‘dying inside’.  Reba is truly peerless when she gets ahold of a killer ballad like this one.

The most-dated tracks seem to be the up-tempos, marred by their 90s country production, tracks like ‘I Won’t Stand In Line’ and ‘I Wouldn’t Wanna Be You’ just haven’t aged as well as their tranquil counterparts.  One track I always thought could have been a smash was the brilliant ‘I Wish That I Could Tell You’.  We find a man on the verge of goodbye and searching for the right words.  His partner can sense what’s on his mind, knowing full-well the relationship is over herself.  Neither wants to hurt the other, but it’s clear that the love is gone:

Where do you turn, where do you go
When you’ve finally reached the end of the road
How do you say it I just don’t know
When it comes to leaving you’re on your own

I think everybody has been at the end of a relationship where the spark has just died, and neither wants to hurt the other.  So many emotions are surfacing at a time like that: hurt, regret, anger, angst, and even fear of the uncertainty that’s coming. This song just puts all those feelings into words better than I ever thought possible.  And I, for one, have leaned on its widsom on more than one occasion.

With Read My Mind, Reba delivers a set of all-new songs – no covers to be found on this album – and performs them to perfection.  I’m a little biased since these are the songs I grew up with, and one of the albums that made me fall in love with the music of Reba McEntire.  Start to finish, this is an album of great songs from the genre’s finest vocalist.  It just doesn’t get much better than this.  When it does, I’ll let you know.

Grade: A

This album is widely available everywhere, and of course at Amazon.

Like most of Reba’s music, you can also stream this entire album at Last FM.

24 responses to “Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Read My Mind’

  1. Razor X August 25, 2009 at 9:02 am

    This was my least favorite Reba album until Reba Duets came along. There is nothing country about it and frankly, I don’t see how singing watered-down pop is making any kind of artistic statement at all. I think it was around the time that this album was released that Reba said in interviews that she wanted to be the first female country artist to reach 5 million units in sales. Unfortunately, Shania Twain got there first, but I think that sales goal was the primary reason for the style of this album. Reba may say that she never set out to record a crossover record, but albums like this don’t happen by accident; there has to be a conscious decision to go with pop-sounding songs.

    “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” was an attempt to recreate the success of “Take It Back.” It’s an OK song, but it doesn’t work as well as “Take It Back” did.

    She did make a very bold and profound artistic statement with “She Thinks His Name Was John.” It’s very pop, but it’s very well done and releasing a song like this as a single was a gutsy move; the type of risk we never see from any major label artists today.

    “Till You Love Me” is by far the best song on an otherwise bland album. I don’t mind some of Reba’s pop-leaning material; I rather liked a good bit of Starting Over , the follow-up album to this one. But Read My Mind is rather tedious to listen to.

    That being said, this is a well written review, even though I don’t share your love for this album, which I would probably rate at a C+ at best.

  2. Caroline August 25, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Obviously, people have varying tastes. This is one of my FAVORITE Reba albums and has some of my absolute favorite Reba songs:
    And Still
    Till You Love Me
    She Thinks His Name Was John
    Read My Mind

    All the songs from this album get regular play on my iPod playlist.

    • Razor X August 25, 2009 at 9:51 am

      Yes, but didn’t you say earlier that you are a Reba fan but not really a country fan? That pretty much reinforces my point that this is not an album made to appeal to country fans.

      • J.R. Journey August 25, 2009 at 10:10 am

        You also have to take into account that this album was recorded in early 1994. At that point, not many albums marketed as country had any resemblance to actual country music. I tried to make my point that this isn’t a country album clear, but it is a great album, with great songs and remarkable vocals from Reba.

        I didn’t think it would be one of your favorites, Razor, simply because of its pop-leanings, but I don’t think it’s a tedious listen at all. I think these are some of the best songs Reba ever recorded, regardless of the instrumentation behind them.

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. It’s the whole 80s Reba vs. 90s Reba argument – and Read My Mind is a prime example of the 90s Reba I fell in love with. I can see you’re coming from a different place and you fell for Reba as a New Traditionalist. For her fans that relish that traditional side of her catalog, I can totally understand them being disappointed with an album like this one. Personally, I think it’s one of her best ever, and so are Rumor Has It, It’s Your Call, and If You See Him – all albums that explored the pop-country sound to the same degree (more or less) as this one.

        • Michelle Aussie country girl February 9, 2017 at 11:59 pm

          This was the first Reba album I ever brought. It is country/pop but I like most of the songs especially She Thinks His name was John, Why Haven’t I Heard From You & The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”

  3. Razor X August 25, 2009 at 10:26 am

    It’s not just a traditional vs contemporary or an 80s vs 90s thing. Even rating this one against her other 90s work, it falls short of my expectations. Starting Over was a slickly produced pop album, but I like it a lot better than Read My Mind .

    Reba’s talent is not in question, but neither the material nor the production are up to her usual standards on this one.

    • J.R. Journey August 25, 2009 at 12:05 pm

      This is where we disagree the most. I think the song selection on this album is pretty much without flaw. There are only a couple songs I don’t love, and even those are good. Read My Mind is one of the few Reba albums I always play from start to finish.

      I guess I just expected your main gripe with this album to be its production, and that’s what I get for assuming. So I agree to disagree on this one …

  4. Paul W Dennis August 25, 2009 at 10:56 am

    This is a slick, overproduced and b-o-r-i-n-g album.

    “… taking country music to places it had rarely, if ever, been before… ” Maybe, if you consider diving off a cliff into the muck anything to write home about . Yes it was a commercial success but remember hot dogs outsell filet mignon every day of the week and this trainwreck was definitely least common denominator stuff . I like good pop music but this wasn’t it

  5. Michael August 25, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I’d give this album an A as well. I loved “And Still” and “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”. I never really found “Til You Love Me” to be all that captivating until I heard it with new ears more than ten years later on #1s. “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and “Take It Back” (from It’s Your Call) are among my least favorite singles that she has released. Also, Tanya Tucker recorded a version of “Everything That You Want” on her 1991 album What Do I Do With Me that I think stands up pretty well against Reba’s. I liked the title of the album as it was released around the same time as her (IMO rather bland) autobiography. The album that kept it out of the #1 spot was Tim McGraw’s Not a Moment Too Soon.

    • Razor X August 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

      “Everything That You Want” is probably my least favorite track on Tanya’s album, but I like her version a lot better than Reba’s. It works better with Tanya’s voice. I don’t think it’s a suitable song for Reba at all.

  6. SD August 25, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I love that Reba is your spotlight artist this month; I’ve really been enjoying these articles and reviews. They’re incredibly well-written and enjoyable.

    However, I feel like every time I read the comments, it’s basically people just ragging on Reba’s music, saying that it’s ‘too pop’ and ‘not country enough’ etc. These people, certainly, are inclined to have their own opinion, but I had hoped that this spotlight artist section would be more of a celebration of Reba’s music and her character. I absolutely do NOT mean to point fingers at anyone, or to speak critically, because I really believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion. But it’s kind of been getting to be a bummer, reading so many comments that say, “Reba has lost all integrity as an artist” and “this is the worst album I have ever heard in my life” (alright… this is an exaggeration. But still.) when it’s the very music that I love and has introduced me to country music.

    Just my two cents! 🙂

    • Razor X August 25, 2009 at 2:50 pm

      We are celebrating Reba’s music, but we also have an obligation to evaluate it honestly. Any artist’s music has to be able to withstand scrutiny. If you’ve been reading these pages for any length of time, you know that we’ve been equally critical of other artists when we feel that their work is not up to par. I’ve been a fan of Reba’s since 1982, but neither she nor anyone else gets a free pass. When I think her music is great, I will say so, but likewise, I won’t shy away from speaking up when she falls short of the mark. You are, of course, free to disagree.

  7. Leeann Ward August 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    SD,
    Comments on a blog article are kind of fair game, with in reason, of course. They are celebrating Reba here, as the reviews are seemingly assigned according to the albums the writers like of hers. If all of the comments were positive (or negative, for that matter), reading comment sections would be pretty dull.

    As for this album, this is the one that I’m most familiar with of Reba’s. Count me in the camp that likes it for the most part. There are some production choices that I could do without, but the song selection works for me. I like the Starting Over album much less. To me, that’s a very lackluster album.

  8. Meg August 25, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Isn’t music just an amazing thing?! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

    “I Wish That I Could Tell You” and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” , “Till You Love Me” are all favorites of mine, but “And Still” is my favorite Reba ballad. She knocks that one out of the park in her live concerts (there’s a great version on the CMT “Invitation Only: Reba”) almost every time.

    I agree with J.R. that some of the production is dated, but nevertheless, there are some powerful messages/lyrics on this one and Reba delivers the stories/point swith great passion and masterful nuance (She Thinks His Name Was John & I Wouldn’t Want To Be You).

    “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” seems a bit out of place on this one with its fun humor, etc., but it’s a great song with witty lyrics and fantastic vocal with a hilarious video. Reba the commedian breaks through in the 90s! Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett look out!

  9. Tony C August 26, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    LOL at the varied opinions in this thread.

    This is my all time favorite Reba album and “I Wish That I Could Tell You” is my favorite song from her period. Love every song on this album save “I Wouldn’t Wanna Be You Right Now”. Love “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” and it would probably come close to the top of my favorites from her.

    Also, disagree about “Everything That You Want”. Reba nails the song and everytime Tanya’s version comes up on my iPod it just makes me want to change over to Reba’s version.

  10. Joe August 26, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    This album came out during my “Reba can do no wrong” period, so I may be a bit more critical of it now.

    I agree that “I Wish That I Could Tell You” should’ve been a single. I’ve always long loved that song.

    “Everything That You Want” is much better than Tanya’s. I was sure “Read My Mind” — while still a great song — was intended to be released to mainstream radio. Love “She Thinks His Name Was John” but I sort of wish she’d thrown it down a bit harder with the vocal.

    “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” is blatantly, poisonously derivative of “Take It Back.” Kelly Clarkson’s love for it has assisted history in forgeting that.

    “Till You Love Me” and “And Still” are good, but have never been favorites of mine. “The Heart is A Lonely Hunter” is formidable. The others are throwaways.

    And I agree the autobiography was unenlightening, unilluminating, like it was drained through cheese cloth to eliminate any semblance of whatever it is that makes autobiographies “real.” In Reba’s defense, nearly every country star had their chance during that time and all were similarly blah (Dolly, Travis Tritt, and Tanya even admitted her co-writer wrote the bulk of her’s).

    • Leeann Ward August 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm

      I thought Naomi Judd’s autobiography was pretty well written out of the books that were written in that window.

      • Razor X August 26, 2009 at 10:36 pm

        I think part of the problem is that most people don’t experience the kind of hard lives that Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette did. That kind of hardship naturally makes for a more interesting story.

      • Michael August 26, 2009 at 10:43 pm

        Around that time I read both Reba’s and Naomi’s autobiographies. I agree that Naomi’s was a page turner but Reba’s was a chore to finish. I would actually like to get around to reading Dolly’s one of these days.

  11. Razor X August 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I wouldn’t say that Reba’s was a chore to finish, but she definitely never faced the kind of adversity that a lot of others have had to deal with. It’s kind of hard to compete with that.

    • Leeann Ward August 27, 2009 at 9:21 am

      Naomi’s was just written better than Reba’s or even Dolly’s.

      • J.R. Journey August 27, 2009 at 10:23 am

        I haven’t read Naomi’s book. And I always thought 1994 was way too early in Reba’s career to write her autobiography – but she was definitely one of the biggest stars in the music world at the time, so the timing more than likely coincided with that. Plus I doubt she’ll ever get around to updating it, so it’s all we have.

        I thought Reba and Dolly both did pretty good jobs with their books – but both were pretty cut and dry as far as the ‘this is how I grew up, this is how I got started, then I had these hits, and now here I am’ sort of approach. Either of them could have spiced it up with insider stories and some juicy tid-bits about their life.

        Dolly did have an interesting Q&A section at the back of hers, but it was only funny the first couple times.

  12. Code February 8, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Great review, She thinks his name was john is a masterpiece song in my eyes. The song is simply amazing.

  13. Pingback: Reba McEntire vs Shakira – John P Claffey

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: