If you ask a country music fan ‘What is the real essence of the genre?’ and many will simply say it’s all about the stories and the words. Reba McEntire’s 33rd studio album ‘Stronger Than the Truth’ is a perfect example of this – an album that gets to the root of storytelling that will have you hooked on each and every word.
The album opens with ‘Swing All Night Long with You’, with the word ‘swing’ giving you a good idea of the upbeat and engaging nature of this first track, while giving you an early insight into the overall classic feel of the record.
The title track ‘Stronger than the Truth’ follows. This has anguish and agony written all over it, Reba’s incredibly emotive vocals telling the tale of a lost trust. Powerful lyrics such as ‘There’s not a sound, a sound as loud as silence, there’s not a blade sharper than a lie, there’s not a low lower than being the last one to know’. This commanding performance from Reba sets the stall out for the rest of the album, each song delivered with that same passion and feeling.
‘Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain’ is as delightful a song title as you’ll find, while the song itself is one of the saddest you’ll ever hear. With nods to Tammy’s ‘Stand By Your Man’, ‘Crying in the Rain’ and ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, the song is one of life changing heartbreak. The track is a wonderful homage to Tammy Wynette, while standing on its own two feet as an incredible and heart-wrenching song.
In an album of standout tracks, it’s tough to pick a highlight, however ‘Cactus in a Coffee Can’ would stand out on any album in any decade. The song tells the story of a meeting on a plane with a character named Elena, who was given up at birth by her mother. Twenty-five years on, mother and daughter are finally reunited, in the last two weeks of her mother’s life. It’s a beautiful track that you can’t help be touched by – the significance of the ‘cactus in a coffee can’ coming to life through the heartfelt storytelling.
Throughout the album are track after track of fantastically written songs, which each draw you in and paint a picture. ‘The Clown’ tells a story of a woman suffering heartbreak in a crowded restaurant, ‘In His Mind’ is a tale of heartbreak of a man who can’t let go of a relationship and ‘Your Heart’ is a warning that you shouldn’t give it away.
The penultimate song of the album is ‘Freedom’. This is an uplifting track, which features Reba coming through all of the heartbreak (fully detailed in the rest of the album!) and finding happiness. ‘Once you’ve held the truth, there’s nothin’ you won’t do, and when I look into your eyes, I know why people died for it, freedom, loving you feels like freedom’.
The final song on the album is one dedicated to Reba’s mother. It’s a fantastically touching song which acts as the perfect anchor to the album. Whatever the artist has been through, there has been one person who has stood by her. ‘You Never Gave Up On Me’ finishes with Reba whispering ‘Thank You Mama’.
Stronger Than the Truth is an incredibly strong album from one of the true queens of country music. Within the 12 tracks there are moments of sheer emotion – with an honesty that only someone who has lived through these moments can deliver.
Reba McEntire remains a driving force for women in the genre and long may she continue.
Album review written by Nick Cantwell (twitter.com/nickbelles_gals)