Album Review: Reba McEntire – Keep on Loving You

Jim Malec | August 18th, 2009

reba-keep-on-loving-youReba McEntire’s new 13-song album clocks in at over 48 minutes, a hefty volume that feels even longer due to its wordiness, its disappointing lack of focus, and its inability to capitalize on the momentum of a number of exemplary tracks. Despite the fact that half of Keep on Loving You reminds us why Reba is a legend, the album as a whole is punctuated by baffling song choices that seem to serve no particular purpose in the tracklist–a frustrating fact since there is so much wonderful material here.

The disc opens with lead single “Strange,” a forgivable piece of life-affirming confection that is set apart by its chunky rhythm and Reba’s stellar delivery. Things up-shift with the pulsing “Just When I Thought I’d Stopped Loving You,” a track which finds Reba venturing outside her comfort zone on a melodically compelling modern up-tempo that gives her plenty of room to bust out her superstar chops and swagger.

By following that up with the beautifully subtle title track, a steel-laden ballad co-written by Ronnie Dunn and Terry McBride that she handles with an appropriately gentle touch, Keep on Loving You jumps out the gate with a promising trifecta of well written songs that showcase three very different sides of this amazing talent.

But as quickly as things get rolling, the wheels fall off thanks to the abysmal “I Want a Cowboy.” Characterized by it’s annoying stop-and-go melody and lyrics more befitting a 17 year old Lila McCann, it is a song so generic and irrelevant that it would be album filler on the worst albums.

Keep on Loving You never really gets back on track after that point.

A schizophrenic disc where one of music’s most venerable and respected legends employs the impeccable songwriter Georgia Middleman for a delightful dose of Oklahoma Swing, it also includes a pointless song about a girl who buys a pink guitar (“Pink Guitar”) and eventually becomes a superstar, name dropping Johnny Cash and Minnie Pearl along the way.

Where Trisha Yearwood’s Big Machine debut (Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love) was a cohesive record that defined an artist at a particular point in her career, Reba’s debut for the same label lacks any apparent sense of purpose or direction, settling instead for a series of mostly very good songs that nonetheless fail to mesh musically, thematically or emotionally.

Karyn Rochelle, who contributed material to Heaven… provides one of this album’s most satisfying moments in the dark “Maggie Creek Road,” a gripping tale of abuse averted thanks to mama; there are few things in country music, after all, more satisfying than hearing a very serious Reba McEntire sing words like, “You don’t wanna see mama go to war.” But “She’s Turning 50 Today” and “Eight Crazy Hours (In The Story of Love)” total eight consecutive minutes of dense, mellow narration, and while the latter of those is quite compelling it has a hard time standing out as it comes on the heels of its very predictable and boring predecessor.

Keep on Loving You contains some of the most worthwhile Reba music released in a very long time, with compelling performances making up the bulk of the disc. But as an album it’s an absolute mess, and while it’s wonderful to hear Reba making an effort to reclaim some of her artistic credo–which she does here, make no mistake of that—the project is almost unlistenable in succession and would have significantly benefited from more specific and focused creative direction.

3.5 Stars

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  1. Leeann Ward
    August 18, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I think this is one that I will cherry pick from. As a consumer, digital downloading is one great invention for just this kind of album judging by the clips.

  2. Rick
    August 18, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Is the “I Want a Cowboy” the same song that Katrina Elam sang on her self-titled debut? Katrina’s version kicks butt although the pacing was a little bit slower than I would have liked.

    Also Shelly Fairchild did a fine version of Leslie Satcher’s “Eight Crazy Hours (In The Story of Love)” on her “Ride” album that is a pleasure to hear. Shelly tends to be a vocal belter but her understated delivery on that song shows a softer side to Shelly’s artistry.

    I’ve never been a Reba fan and would not buy this album, but its nice to see her picking some songs I like as recorded by other artists I’d rather listen to.

  3. Jordan Stacey
    August 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    When I heard Reba was recording a song that was on Katrina’s album I was excited, there are a couple songs on there that would fit Reba perfectly. So I was dissapointed when it was announced that it was “I Want A Cowboy” that she picked. I would’ve thought “Flowers By The Side Of The Road” or “Home Running Away” would’ve been the ones. I am glad however that “Eight Crazy Hours” is getting wider exposure, though I would’ve loved it if Shelly got that chance.

  4. Tony C
    August 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Pretty much agree…solid B/B+ album, but 3-4 songs keep it from being a classic. I’d rank this ahead of Duets and on par or slightly behind Room To Breathe.

    More later as I’m just wrapping my thoughts around the individual tracks.

  5. Caroline
    August 18, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I suppose I’m in the minority, but I don’t mind the eclectic mix of songs. I love hearing Reba sing different styles of music. I’m definitely going to be listening to this album a lot!

  6. bigdan071288
    August 18, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    No Caroline ur not alone. I love this album and I also like to hear an eclectic mix of songs on Reba’s albums. I guess it all comes down to people’s own personal preference. I am so in love with this album!

  7. Ken Morton Jr
    August 18, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Over her history, some of Reba’s greatest hits and songs she’s been most recognized for have allowed her redheaded sassiness to shine and have had a bit of lyrical controversy in them. Tunes like “Fancy” and “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” come to mind. I agree with Jim on the album’s best track, “Maggie Creek Road”- a great story song about a mom taking things into her own hands when her daughter is caught being taken advantage of by her boyfriend. I disagre with Jim on “Pink Guitar,” however. I thought it a fun chick country rocker (if I as a guy can have a vote what a fun chick country rocker can be.)While she didn’t write it, I thought it one of the few songs that were semi-autobiographical, with lyrics on becoming an Opry member and a plaque hanging in the Country Music Hall Of Fame next to Minnie Pearl. (Perhaps someday for Mrs. McEntire.) This is opposite of how I felt about “She’s Turning 50.” Even though it was co-written by McEntire herself, it wasn’t as reflective on her own experiences as I would have liked. Positively speaking, however, it is one of the few releases speaking from a perspective of maturity in country music, especially with the current CMT teen invasion going on.

  8. J.R. Journey
    August 18, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    This is a very fair review, Jim. You had the same reaction I did really. I thought there were many shining moments and flashes of brilliance, but they get overshadowed by the weaker tracks, some of which just suck. And I agree the themes are all over the place, which makes for a jumbled album. Maybe in this digital ‘cherry-picking’ day and age, that is what Reba was going for. But she’s been known to make classic albums from start to finish, steadfast and tight and unswerving in their song selection. This is not one of them.

    And after all these years, Reba should have her skills honed down to perfection. I expect more from Reba. If this were an album by a new artist, I would give her kuods, but coming from a 30+ year veteran, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Keep On Loving You is a good album, like I said, but it should be beyond great.

  9. Nicolas
    August 18, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    “Maggie Creek Road” is the best song on the album =) Very very good song

    I just went out and bought this today, I had to beg my mom for it =P

  10. Steve Harvey
    August 18, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Is Pink Guitar this this Pink Guitar?

  11. Chris D.
    August 18, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Yes, Steve it is. :(

  12. Joe
    August 18, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    The vocal is top notch throughout; Reba is inching ever closer to that full-on vocal throw-down I’ve been waiting for. Considering how close I’d been to giving up on even this day, I’m happy for that alone.

    Songs? I entirely agree with the review, and will add only this: “Consider Me Gone” screams “I was written to be a radio single” so much that, if it doesn’t crack the Top 10, I fear the entire album will disappear (like “Heaven, Heartache & the Power of Love” did).

    Packaging is great. The turquoise and green really pop.

    One interesting note: Starstruck Records has “exclusively licensed” the album to The Valory Music Co, which here in Canada is “manufactured and distributed on behalf of the Valory Music Co” by Open Road Recordings “via” Universal Music Canada. Ironic that, at a time when physical sales are down, there are so many more hands in the pot.

    Also: the retail sticker at the Wal-Mart where I purchased the CD read $14.74 but it scanned only $11.93. At any other retailer I wouldn’t flinch, but Wal-Mart?!

  13. Razor X
    August 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I’ve been a Reba fan since 1982 and I’m really disappointed in this album. Schizophrenic is good word for it; it definitely lacks cohesiveness. “Maggie Creek Road” was a decent track, as was the title track, but I thought “Nothing to Lose” and “I’ll Have What She’s Having” were the only two truly great songs in the entire set. While this is a better album than the Duets project, it falls far short of Reba’s capabilities.

  14. Stone Ln
    August 18, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I just got my copy today. I wasn’t going out at midnight and fight with the Wal-mart associate and I really wanted the CD versus downloading it.
    So, far I’m a little disappointed. I had high expectations for this album.
    “Just When I Thought I’d Stopped Loving You” is a mess! That’s the Kelly Clarkson influence she warned us about, I guess. And some of the songs just don’t make sense! But, Reba was never an album artist, so albums as a whole are never a goal of her’s.
    However, I was very surprised with the last track – “I’ll What She’s Having.”
    Despite it’s cheeky title and premise, it’s a great Oklahoma / Bob Wills Swing and the track Reba sounds the most comfortable!

  15. Nicolas
    August 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    @Joe: Funny, I bought mine at Target for even cheaper! xD It was marked $13.99, but had a sign saying it was going for $9.99

  16. Matt B.
    August 18, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    @Joe. Open Road Recordings handles BMR/Valory in Canada. Wholly independent like Big Machine is, Open Road Recordings happens to be basically the Canadian equivalent of BMR/Valory and have some of Canada’s most successful native artists on their roster like Johnny Reid and Doc Walker.

  17. Steve Harvey
    August 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Yes, Steve it is. :(
    Woah. That’s weird. I can’t hear McEntire singing that in my head.

  18. cristal
    August 19, 2009 at 5:13 am

    i love the album,and i can’t stop listening to it!! i love artist the take the chance to change and do different thing without leaving there own style and i think that’s what Reba does, times are different know and the subjects she discuses in her songs are awesome,i love it !! and i love this Reba!!

  19. Occasional Hope
    August 19, 2009 at 6:43 am

    I’m not overly impressed with the album apart from a few tracks, but I’m not disappointed because I hadn’t got up my hopes that high to begin with. But there is one very pleasant surprise in I’ll Have What She’s Having which sounds like late 80s Reba at her best, and I wasn’t expecting that at all.

  20. Leeann Ward
    August 19, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Dare I say that while “Maggie Creek Road” is good, it still seems to lack some grit in places. I’m not even sure how much I like it yet, even though most people think it’s one of the best songs on the album. Over all, even the best songs on the album, including “I’ll Have What She’s Having”, don’t work as well as her past hits for me.

  21. Razor X
    August 19, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I had to go back and listen to “Maggie Creek Road” after everybody else seemed to like it because it hadn’t really made that much of an impression on me. On re-listening to it, it seems to be an attempt to do another southern Gothic-type song like “Fancy” or “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”, but it doesn’t seem to pack the same punch as those other songs.

  22. Occasional Hope
    August 19, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I’d put in somewhere in between those two.

  23. Bernie Ryan
    August 19, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    I’m in the minority here, I guess, because I haven’t stopped listening to the CD since I bought it yesterday — it’s been on my desktop on repeat/shuffle all day today too. I wasn’t expecting to like the album as much as I do — I think it’s excellent; I love the eclectic mix of songs — only Reba would have the “b….” to put out an album with so many different styles of songs on it!

    As far as lyrics and the flow of the album, I rarely could tell you what the lyrics are to any songs I listen to, I guess you could say I’m a melody listener. And as far as the flow of the album, I never listen to an album in the order of the songs — I always listen to it in the random mode. Reba’s new album flows just fine with me!

    Do I love every song on the album? Absolutely not — but then I rarely do. I was pleasantly surprised with the tracks that I did end up liking very much: I want a cowboy is a really fun song and I’m hoping that Reba will put it in her concerts — this will definitely get people up out of their seats, dancing, clapping, singing along! However, I did prefer the album version over the dance remix version; Just when I thought I’d stopped loving you, though definitely better suited to a Kelly Clarkson, the more I listen to it, the more I like it — this is definitely a new route for Reba and I’m loving that she took that turn.

    I have been a Reba fan for many, many years and her early work is definitely my favorite, but there are examples of that on this album too, e.g., Consider me gone, I’ll have what she’s having, and Maggie Creek Road.

    I’ve written way more than I intended — I’m just glad I’m a listener of music rather than a critic — I’m thoroughly enjoying this CD!

  24. Leeann Ward
    August 19, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Some of the sequencing on “Maggie Creek Road” made me have to stretch my mind a bit on the last verse.

  25. Joe
    August 19, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I found myself wondering if I’d like the album better if it were sequenced differently. Imagine if “I’ll Have What She’s Having” or “Maggie Creek Road” was the first track instead of hidden so far back at the end.

    And whatever Open Road is doing, it’s certainly working. It seems the major labels in Canada have always treated even their (perhaps questionably) successful country artists as disposable. With notable exceptions (various incarnations of the Family Brown, Michelle Wright for example) there have been few Canadian stars to last beyond a few albums, which apparently is the norm for an initial recording contract up here. Remember Farmer’s Daughter? LOVED them.

    It seems Canada’s always embraced independents more. Patricia Conroy stopped winning industry awards, but I’ll bet she’s making more $$$ off her recordings since she went independent. Same with Carolyn Dawn Johnson.

    I’m surprised how much I’m consistently enjoying Doc Walker, but there’s something about Johnny Reid that makes me cringe and change the station — and yet he’s supposed to be this great big massive star.

  26. Razor X
    August 19, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Do I love every song on the album? Absolutely not — but then I rarely do.

    In this day and age, when we have to wait so long between albums, when an artist I like finally gets around to releasing something new, I feel entitled to expect to love every song. And with all the complaints within the music industry about consumers cherry-picking and downloading just a few selected tracks instead of buying the whole album, one would think that there would be more of an incentive to put out an album that is first-rate from beginning to end.

  27. melissa
    August 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    It’s Georgia MiddlemAn, with an A, not an e – funny that you’d call her “impeccable” and get her name wrong. I preferred “I Want a Cowboy” when Katrina Elam recorded it – sad that you’d look over such an underrated star when mentioning that song. Speaking of which – Shelly Fairchild did a KILLER version of “Eight Crazy Hours (In The Story of Love)” on her Ride album. Another MAJOR thing to look over. It’s so touchingly beautiful by her. Oh, and to quote you – “But as quickly as things get rolling, the wheels fall off thanks the abysmal “I Want a Cowboy.” …You left out a “to” there, so hey, it’s nice of you to thank the song.

  28. Tony C
    August 20, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Maggie Creek Road is killer. Would love to see her take a gamble and release it as a single after Consider Me Gone. Doubt that’ll happen though…wouldn’t be surprised if they play it safe with “I Want A Cowboy”.

    Also love “I Keep On Lovin’ You”, “Just When I Thought I’d Stopped Loving You” and “But Why”. Could do without “Pink Guitar” and “Over You”.

  29. Jason P
    August 21, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Been a Reba geek since 1990…this is my favorite cd since For My Broken Heart – the first album in years without any oddball songs (Roses, Moving Oleta) taking up space on an otherwise awesome collection of tunes.

    Now if we could only get her to swap a few more of those played out singles from the 90′s with some great album cuts in her live shows…it’s been practically the same set list for the last 10 – 15 years….

  30. Robin
    August 24, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    This is my favortie Reba CD so far. I love Reba and she has proven that she can sing different styles. “I’ll have what she’s hav’in” Fun! Reba is classy and fun. And What a voice. You just gotta love her.

  31. Elle
    September 10, 2009 at 10:08 am

    First, it’s been how long since her last album? She’s entitled to shake things up! Second, CMT is dominated by teens right now and the pop-influenced sound. I think it’s smart of Reba to try to stay current. I’ve been a fan for a long time but I am one of the younger fans, so maybe that’s why I’m one of the minorities here too.

    Plus what does Reba have to say for how or why she did the songs she did? I’m sure there’s an awesome story. I haven’t seen much and I’m out of the loop. I did come across this interview though which seems to be pretty inclusive:

  32. direnee
    December 25, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    the cd says it has two videos on it, how do u access them??

  33. RILEY
    March 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Ok, im only 15 year olds, and i usually listen 2 alternative, rock and pop. Reba is the only country singer i like, here’s why: Reba knows how 2 stay current and produce gud songs. Thats why she recently had 2 consecuatively billboard no. 1 albums, because she knows how 2 stay current. I was born in England, but currently live in barbados, and reba is one of the only country singers known here(others being carrie,dolly,taylor and rascall flats) The best song is maggie creek road, i love it!! it has this rocky edge 2 it, I hope she wud release it as her 4th single, that music vid wud be epic


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