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Review: “Starting Over” by Reba McEntire

August 17, 2009

Starting OverMarketed as a “tribute to her influences”, you would think that this 1995 album would be a tribute to traditional artists and traditional songs, because that’s the way Reba marketed “her kind of country” in the mid-eighties. Alas, no, and the traditionalists hoping that Reba would return to the style of neo-traditionalism that had brought her so much success from 1984 to 1987, would again be disappointed. This was McEntire’s most pop-sounding album yet, and if it weren’t for the select covers of “Talking In Your Sleep” by Crystal Gayle, “I Won’t Mention It Again” by Ray Price, and “Starting Over Again” by Dolly Parton (all of which are among those artists’ most pop-leaning songs), you probably wouldn’t have guessed it was a country album at all. While most of her previous post-1988 material had shown a steady drift towards mainstream pop, it was with this album Reba left the country genre all together. Thankfully, she were to return a year later with the countrier What If It’s You that featured a more stripped-down production, and a much fresher song selection.

Starting Over was also to be her least successful album with country radio in over a decade, and her first album since 1989 that wasn’t to be certified multi-platinum by the RIAA. The highest peaking single on the country charts was the #9 hit “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands”; a previous top five hit for Lee Greenwood. The other singles were “On My Own” with Trisha Yearwood, Linda Davis and Martina McBride, and “Starting Over Again”, which peaked at #20 and #19 respectively. There was a fourth single released, but this one to the Hot Dance Club Songs chart, and this one was more successful than all of the country singles with its peak position of #2 on that chart; a record for a country female until LeAnn Rimes broke that record when “What I Cannot Change” became a #1 hit in 2009.

The album opens with “Talking In Your Sleep”, which despite it’s full orchestra backing, is one of the more sparsely produced songs on the album. Reba is also more vocally restrained here, but that’s not really saying much, since the rest of the album is pretty much one big showboat of Reba’s vocal chops. Nevertheless, it works, and damn well too. While she does oversing on much of the album, no one’s ever been able to “get away” with it like Reba does on this album. She’s still well within her comfort-zone on all of the songs, unlike a certain other female hit-maker; she’s simply going at “full throttle” throughout the album, which could be a disastrous choice if the most songs were of the kind that requires restraint. The excessive vocal acrobatics on “Five Hundred Miles Away From Home” has the potential to grate on you at times, but it’s not enough to make her version unlistenable or even bad; it’s just something that could be improved.

The finer moments of the album include the lead single “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands”, a song about infidelity. While Greenwood’s version sets out to create sympathy for the woman by having the man explain the situation, and admitting that he’s a big part of the reason she cheated; Reba has a much more difficult job: to make the listeners feel sorry for her when she’s the one who’s cheated. In the hands of a lesser vocalist, it might’ve come off as a desperate rant only created so that the woman could defend her honor, Reba makes you genuinely feel sorry for her and the situation she’s in. Her vocal gets angrier and angrier as the song progresses, and some of those notes towards the end show that Carrie Underwood ain’t got nothing on Reba when it comes to pure vocal power. It’s truly a magnificent composition, and one of Reba’s best singles.

“Starting Over Again” also sounds mighty fine in the hands of Reba despite being very different from the stunning original by Dolly Parton. Whereas Parton chose to explore the sadness and vulnerable side about one’s parents splitting up; Reba chose to infuse the song with the other common feeling in such a situation: anger. While Parton’s interpretation of this Donna  Summer is slightly more convincing than Reba’s, her version isn’t far behind, and is also one of the best tracks on the album. Other standout moments include “Please Come To Boston” and her torchy version of Ray Price’ “I Won’t Mention It Again”.

There are a few misses on the album, though; most notably “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, which is a horrible song regardless of whether it’s in the hands of Reba, The Supremes or Kim Wilde.  “You’re No Good” lacks the sass and spunk of the original, and comes off as slightly mediocre. “On My Own” is one of Reba’s least-liked songs, but I find it to be just fine. I understand how people might find it somewhat underwhelming, seeing as it came from who is widely considered to be three of country’s finest vocalist, and Linda Davis. It serves its purpose just fine , which in my opinion is to be poppy ear candy. The killer sax on the track is also a real plus. It has no business being on this album though, being an R&B song from 1986, it couldn’t possibly be a track that’s influenced Reba’s music, which is what this album is supposed to be about. The same can be said for the Crystal Gayle track, but it’s slightly more believable seeing as Reba’s early output could be somewhat reminiscent of Gayle’s own music.

The album ends with “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”; another ballad that’s given the torch treatment. It works fine, and is a nice way to sum the album up being the pop standard that it is. All in all, Starting Over isn’t Reba’s finest moment, but it does feature some of her best vocals, and shows that when she gets a decent song to sing, she really can sing the heck out of it.

Grade: A-

You can buy Starting Over on Amazon, and listen to it on

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Aminal permalink
    August 17, 2009 1:29 PM

    Aren’t you going to write something about Sugarman?

  2. August 17, 2009 7:28 PM

    “Sugarman” can wait – I have a long list of better performers to visit first, which includes LeAnn Rimes, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, Jo Dee Messina, and Miss Leslie.

    • Aminal permalink
      August 17, 2009 7:39 PM

      K. So how long do you think it will be before you get to Sugarman?

  3. Nicolas permalink
    August 18, 2009 2:08 AM


    Good review =)

  4. Jordan Stacey permalink
    August 27, 2009 3:47 PM

    I may be the only one who likes “You Keep Me Hanging On”, I love “Ring On Her Finger, Time On Her Hands” and agree it’s probably one of her best singles.

  5. November 11, 2009 12:13 AM

    If I recall correctly, she picked the songs for this album by looking at a list of all of the #1 pop singles and #1 country singles in history. Songs that didn’t go #1 weren’t considered for the project.

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