Expanded interview and video: Reba McEntire talks 'real country' album 'Stronger Than the Truth,' ACM Awards, Oklahoma roots and more
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Country strong: Reba McEntire returns to her musical roots with new album 'Stronger Than the Truth'
For Reba McEntire, there’s no such thing as too much fun.
“Never too much fun. No,” she said. “Timing is everything, and when it presents itself to you, you just grab it by the horns and go with it.”
Following a milestone 2018 when her accomplishments ranged from receiving the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors to becoming the first woman to play KFC icon Colonel Sanders to winning her third Grammy (to go with her first GMA Dove Award) for her debut gospel album, 2017’s “Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope,” the Oklahoma native is going back to her beginnings.
As in, back to her childhood days growing up on the family ranch in Chockie and performing as the Singing McEntires with her brother and younger sister.
“I’m back to my roots, the kind of songs that I sang when I was growing up playing dance halls and rodeos with Pake and Susie when we were kids. I mean, it’s just so much fun to sing hardcore country music again,” McEntire said in a phone interview March 28, her 64th birthday, which she described as 64 “absolutely wonderful; I just love every year.”
“I think it’s the right time for the album, I think it’s the right time for me. I’m ready to hear some stone-cold country music, and if I can’t hear it somewhere else, I’ll just go record it.”
The Country Music Hall of Famer is releasing her new album “Stronger Than the Truth” Friday on Big Machine Records. As an encore, she will host the Academy of Country Music Awards for the 16th time Sunday, when the show airs live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on CBS.
“Oh, I love live television, and sure you get a little nervous. But that’s part of it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the ACMs, getting to see everybody, meet some of the new artists that I haven’t got to meet yet that are nominated.”
The flame-haired songstress also will perform a song from her new “real country” album on the awards show.
“Stronger Than the Truth” is so country it features the soul-shattering ballad called "Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain," a Spanish guitar-infused cautionary tale “Your Heart” and not one but two bouncy Western swing tunes: “Swing All Night Long with You,” which opens the album, and “No U in Oklahoma,” which McEntire co-wrote with fellow Okies Ronnie Dunn and Donna McSpadden.
“‘There’s no U in Oklahoma, and that’s OK with me’ – that’s just real country,” she said. “(Co-producer) Buddy Cannon and I had a wonderful time playing these songs because that’s what we both grew up with. He toured with Mel Tillis so he KNOWS that kind of music.”
Some songs on the new album she has been saving for years, including the emotional yarn "Cactus In A Coffee Can,” the haunting heartbreaker “The Clown” and the title track, which was penned by Hannah Louise Blaylock and Reba’s Autumn McEntire, her brother Pake’s daughter.
“They wrote that back in, I think, 2014, and I’ve had it. Finally, I was going through my computer looking for all the songs that I horde, and I texted her, I said, ‘Hey, have you ever done anything with this song?’ She said, ‘no,’ and I said, ‘Well, put it on my hold for me; I love it.’ It was the right album for it,” Reba said.
“Isn’t it funny: There’s only so many notes and there’s so many words, but they (songwriters) can find different ways to say pretty much the same thing.”
Her niece is one of many female songwriters who contributed to the 12-song collection, which the venerable hitmaker said was coincidental rather than intentional. But she said she wasn’t shocked that several talented women made the cut.
“They always have, so it’s no surprise to me,” said McEntire, who also co-wrote the mournful ode “In His Mind” with Liz Hengber and Tommy Lee James. “I don’t look at the publishers, I don’t look at the writers, I just listen to the song and it has to stand on its own merit.”
When she announced the ACM Awards nominations in February on “CBS This Morning,” the “Queen of Country” added her distinctive voice the widespread criticism country music has received in recent years for excluding women from radio airplay, chart opportunities and awards contention. All five nominees for the top award – Entertainer of the Year – are once again men: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Chris Stapleton and Keith Urban.
"That doesn't make me very happy 'cause we've got some very talented women who are out there working their butts off," Reba said on "CBS This Morning." "I'm missing my girlfriends on this list."
The multifaceted superstar expressed optimism that change is coming to the format.
“Well, we’ve all voiced our opinion … and Carrie Underwood’s going back on tour and has got a very strong show, putting new females on the show with her. Kacey Musgraves has had a tremendous year, as we’ve seen at the Grammys. Ashley McBryde is smoking right now; she just won New Female Vocalist for the ACMs. So, I think it’s already in the making. I think you’re going to see a different result from the nominations in the coming awards shows,” she said.
“Of course, you can’t quit. … You’ve got to keep going, working harder.”
The 54th Academy of Country Music Awards will air live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, from 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday on CBS, with Oklahoma native Reba McEntire as host.
ACM Awards nominees with Oklahoma ties include Lambert, Underwood and Maddie & Tae.
Performers include Underwood, Lambert, Ada native Blake Shelton Brooks & Dunn (which includes former Tulsan Ronnie Dunn), Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Brandi Carlile, Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Khalid, LANCO, Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton and George Strait.
Follow my coverage of the ACM Awards Sunday night at NewsOK.com.