It’s rare when a performer who has enjoyed sustained success for decades enjoys a renewed burst of popularity.
Yet, that’s exactly what’s happened with country superstar Reba McEntire, whose last release, Reba Duets, topped both the pop and country album charts. McEntire’s new CD, Keep on Loving You (Valory), which was released Tuesday, has already yielded, in the first single “Strange,” the highest solo chart debut in her glittering 33-year career.
But McEntire, whose last 13 studio albums have all achieved platinum status, also made a huge career change with Keep on Loving You . She left the label where she’d risen to iconic levels from 1976-2008 (Polygram/Mercury/MCA) to join the new company Valory.
“I had enjoyed so much success and had so much fun working with Scott Borchetta [the CEO/President of Valory and its sister label, Big Machine Records]. I didn’t know if I wanted to work as hard again as I did when he was at MCA, but once I made that decision, we got right at it and things have worked really well, just as they did,” McEntire said. “He’s a great music man and someone who knows country music inside out and knows how to make good records.”
McEntire has won a host of awards, among them 12 from the Academy of Country Music, seven from the Country Music Association, 15 from American Music, and a pair of Grammy honors, plus nine People’s Choice awards. The commercial figures are equally stunning, with 33 No. 1s and disc sales of more than 55 million units.
McEntire and Borchetta combined forces on 14 of those chart-topping singles and generated more than $22 million in sales during their first period together. Now, McEntire is the crown jewel in a signing splurge that also brought Jewel, Jimmy Wayne and rising newcomer Justin Moore into Borchetta’s fold.
The new disc’s 13 tunes include “Eight Crazy Hours (In The Story of Love),” a searing number about isolation and loneliness, as well as several excellent story songs such as “Fancy” and “Maggie Creek Road.” The album also includes heartache numbers “Nothing to Lose” and “Over You,” along with lighter themed pieces “Pink Guitar,” “I Want A Cowboy” and “I’ll Have What She’s Having.”
But perhaps the emotional centerpiece of Keep on Loving You is the emphatic “She’s Turning 50 Today,” one of two tremendous tunes (“Is There Life Out There” being the other) that dissect and examine issues of aging.
“This whole thing of once people turn 50 the industry acts as if they’ve hit some kind of plateau is just silly,” McEntire said. “You’ve got great singers with experience who have so much to give to the young singers and can be inspirations to them, and instead there are people who want to shove them aside. I know right now I don’t feel like I’m in my 50s [she’s 54]. I feel like I’m in my 30s and have plenty of energy and desire.”
McEntire is currently concentrating on her music, after earning rave reviews for her performances on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun (“the hardest I’ve ever worked in any medium,” McEntire recalls) and starring in a top-rated sitcom, Reba for six seasons, first on the WB and later the CW.
“I loved doing that show,” McEntire said. “It was so well-written and the actors and producers and directors were wonderful. But when it came time for contract renewal, they just decided to cancel us. We were their number one rated show, and they just didn’t want to do it anymore. We’re still trying to figure out why they canceled it.”
However, she’s now gearing up for a tour early next year, with plans to be announced regarding dates and locations next month.
“Right now I’m really happy about this new CD and hope that the fans embrace it,” McEntire said. “I’m not looking at doing anything else like television or going back to Broadway, though sometime down the line I would be open to it if the right story came along and the right people were involved.
“But something that I would like to do one day is host a variety show,” she said. “I’ve always loved all the classic variety shows like the ones that Barbara Mandrell hosted, or Glenn Campbell, The Smothers Brothers, Dolly Parton, Laugh-In, any of those programs. America's Got Talent is really just a variety show. That’s something that I hope television will present more in the future, and one day I would love to host one myself.”