Interview: Reba McEntire Aims for ‘Stone-Cold Country’ on ‘Stronger Than the Truth’
"My goal for this album was to record a stone-cold country album," the iconic singer tells The Boot. It was as simple and classic as that.
For McEntire, this return to her musical roots also marked a return to her personal roots: "That's what I grew up singing, when I was part of the Singing McEntires, [with my siblings] Pake and Susie and myself," she explains. "You had to sing dance songs, because we played a lot of dance halls and honky-tonks and rodeos, and that's what they wanted to hear, is dance music. And so that's what we have on this album."
The process of making an album so focused on traditional country music reminded McEntire of how she created her 1984 album, My Kind of Country. "Because I had gone to [producer] Jimmy Bowen and said, 'I wanna record my kind of country,' and he said, 'Well, what's that?' I said, 'The songs I grew up with, like Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Mel Tillis.' He said, 'Well, go find the songs yourself,'" McEntire recalls.
"My goal for this album was to record a stone-cold country album."
Just like she did back then, McEntire prioritized finding the right songs while she was curating the track list for Stronger Than the Truth. "I went to look for songs that you can dance to. That are reminiscent of the songs I did when Pake and Susie and I were the Singing McEntires," she says.
McEntire was so focused on finding those particular kinds of songs, in fact, that she tried to eliminate every other aspect of each song that might sway her opinion of it. "What I try to do is not look at who's written it or published it," she relates. "I want the song to stand on its own. If it's a buddy of mine, or a favorite songwriter, it could sway me on the song's performance. So after I listen to the song and fall in love with the song, that's when I look to see who's written it."
However, there are a couple of critical differences between My Kind of Country and Stronger Than the Truth: For one thing, the kinds of songs available to McEntire have expanded considerably since 1984.
"I have the freedom, nothing to hold me back, to sing about sad songs, happy songs, story songs," she explains. "There's no, 'Ooh, I don't wanna sing that because that reminds me,' or, 'No, I don't wanna sing that song because it hurts when I sing it.' I'm very happy. I'm in a real good place."
Even more importantly, Stronger Than the Truth has an entirely different context, in terms of the kinds of albums that are being released alongside it. Country music doesn't sound like it did in the '80s; the evolution of "bro-country," followed by a more pop-influenced trend within the genre, has changed the landscape of the format, and affects the kinds of songs that make their way to the top of its charts.
McEntire says she hopes this album will "give [country music] a nudge" back in a more traditional direction. "Because the songs that I chose for this album might not be things that the record label would think radio would play," she points out. Still, the country star has hope that the genre's pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of the kind of music close to her heart.
"I don't know. You know, radio in country music is changing a lot," she continues. "I'm hoping it's going back to more traditional country. And if so, I'm right there ready for the songs to be played."
Every aspect of the album speaks to McEntire's love of traditional country, from the project's danceable collection of songs to its emphasis on storytelling that cuts through to the hearts of its listeners, and right down to the title.
"I love the [title track], and we went through several others, you know, to be the name of the album, but Stronger Than the Truth just really hung in there," she says. "Because then people say, 'Well, what is stronger than the truth?' And I say, 'Nothin'.'
"How do you beat that?" McEntire adds matter-of-factly.
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