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Album Review

A big voice that’s big on girl power

August 17, 2009

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COUNTRY
Reba McEntire Keep On Loving You
Valory Music Co.
ESSENTIAL “She’s Turning 50 Today’’

Performed by anyone else, “Strange,’’ the ready-and-raring first single from Reba McEntire’s new and 31st album, would make you pity the protagonist whose man has just left her. But this is Reba McEntire, so instead of a hanky she’s waving a victory flag. “Strange, I oughta be in bed with my head in the pillow cryin’/ Over us/ But I ain’t/ Ain’t love strange,’’ she sings with serious attitude on the defiant chorus.

The song, with the top of the country charts dead in its sights, is a snapshot of McEntire’s mindset on “Keep on Loving You’’: No matter how bad it gets, her sass and her spirit keep her afloat. It’s a sturdy and at times exuberant country album with big production and McEntire’s even bigger voice leading the charge on low-key ballads (“I Keep on Lovin’ You’’), rocking kiss-offs (“Strange’’), and her signature story songs about ordinary lives (“Maggie Creek Road’’).

Only a few of these songs (“But Why,’’ “Over You’’) feel faceless, the kind of power ballads that could be hits for McEntire, or Martina McBride, or Faith Hill. Of course, this being a radio-friendly record, there’s the requisite tip of the cowboy hat to spitfire women who buck the odds (“Pink Guitar’’) and rugged, downhome men (“I Want a Cowboy’’).

Tellingly, “She’s Turning 50 Today,’’ the sole song that really aims for the heart and the head, is the only one where McEntire gets a co-writing credit. It’s classic Reba, from premise (a woman at the crossroads on her birthday) to resolution (she’s going to be just fine, thank you). (Out tomorrow) JAMES REED