In February 1986, just seven months after Have I Got A Deal For You, Reba released her tenth studio album. She was to release yet another (What Am I Gonna Do About You) that fall. This level of productivity – unthinkable today – was commonplace in the mid 80s, and in this case at least did not result in any dilution of quality, or indeed in commercial appeal. Whoever’s In New England was another almost faultless set, and her biggest seller to date. It was her first chart-topping album, and her first album certified gold. It eventually sold over a million copies. It is hardly surprising that she was to be named the CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1986; she remains one of very few female artists to have held this title.
With not much more than six months between albums, there was only time to issue two singles (both #1 hits), but at least half the tracks here could have had potential at radio. The title track (written by Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers) is one of Reba’s best remembered hits, and one of her finest recordings, with a beautifully nuanced vocal as the protagonist voices her suspicions of a husband’s infidelity on his all-too-frequent business trips up north, and promises she will still be there when it’s all over and “‘Boston finds better things to do”. The dramatic storyline was perfect fodder for Reba’s first ever music video.
The second single, ‘Little Rock’, is a very radio-friendly mid-tempo number about a woman deciding being a trophy wife is not enough. The rock of the title is the wedding ring she’s planning to ditch along with her rich but uncaring husband. The strength of this album rests in the ballads, whereas its predecessor had focussed on the uptempo, and ‘Little Rock’ is one of only three faster tracks, with ‘Can’t Stop Now’, which opens the album, the one dispensable track on it. The best of the uptempo numbers is the cheery western swing of ‘One Thin Dime’ as a wife tells the husband who is leaving her all he has to do is phone to get her back.
The rest of the album consists of one superb ballad after another. The production is a little less hardcore country than the previous two, but the change is barely noticeable.
The material is quite adult at times. The delicately sensual ‘You Can Take The Wings Off Me’ (apparently also recorded by Tammy Wynette but never released) has a woman relinquishing her good-girl image. In ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ (a top 20 hit for Charly McClain in 1987), the protagonist is open to physical intimacy, but thanks to past heartbreak, rejects the emotional kind:
“You can lay your head on my shoulder
Maybe even get a little bolder
But when it comes to my heart
Don’t touch me there.”
Reba raided the vaults again for this album, covering the exquisite melancholy of ‘I’ve Seen Better Days’, recorded by George Jones and Tammy Wynette on their Golden Ring album from 1976. This sad post-divorce song was probably a little too downbeat for radio play even in the days when sad and slow was the heartbeat of country music.
Almost as sad is ‘I’ll Believe It When I Feel’ (written by Chris Waters, Tom Shapiro and Bucky Jones), as the protagonist refuses to accept her friends’ promises that she will love again:
“They say he’s out there
They say that someday I’ll forget
I’ll believe it when I feel it
But I haven’t felt it yet.”
The narrator of ‘To Make That Same Mistake Again’ (written by Roger Murrah and Richard Leigh) has also been unlucky in love, but is less beaten down by the experience, defiantly refusing to learn from her “mistakes”:
“If loving him too much is why I lost him in the end
I hope that I can live long enough to make that same mistake again.”
She adds tartly,
“I never thought I’d see the day when love would be a crime.”
My favorite track after ‘Whoever’s In New England’ is probably the Diana Rae/Jane Mariash-penned ‘If You Only Knew’, a single girl’s counsel to her unhappy married friend, which feels like a modern reimagining of the old classic ‘Single Girl, Married Girl’:
“If you only knew what a single girl goes through
The long working days and the lonely nights, the empty ‘I love you’s,
Oh, if you only knew what it’s like to be alone
You’d put your anger down, turn around and go back home.”
The album is easy to find both digitally and on CD.