Album Review – Reba McEntire’s “Stronger Than The Truth”
No matter how far you wander, no matter where your heart may stray, country music is always there for you to come back to. It’s like a compass point—like the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen, or those familiar old buildings in the heart of your hometown. No matter how chaotic the world gets, and how quickly time speeds up, these constants are immune to progress, affording you the opportunity to reset, and to slow down while in their warming presence. The sound of country music is comforting because you can count on it. And it will welcome you back home whenever you’re ready for it to come back into your life again.
As true as this is for country music’s disciples, so it is for its practitioners. From albums of adult contemporary songs to multi-season sitcoms bearing her name, Reba McEntire’s celebrity has swelled well beyond the borders of country, and her financial well-being has long since been secure. Her spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame rotunda is minted, and she’s one of the few entertainers commonly allowed to use “queen” alongside her name. Reba McEntire has nothing to gain by making a strong country record at this point in her career. But she did it anyway because she wanted to. And that sense of deliberate passion and artistic freedom comes through in the twelve inspired songs of Stronger Than The Truth.
First and foremost, Reba McEntire’s thirty third studio album is a breakup record, and not one where fictitious notions are brought to life through country music cosplay because whiskey tears set the best mood for true country songs. Stronger Than The Truth comes in the aftermath of Reba exiting 26 years of marriage to steel guitar player and manager Narvel Blackstock. For a quarter century, Reba and Blackstock weren’t just life partners, they ran Reba’s entire business together. And whether it’s Reba’s pen composing the stories or someone else’s, it’s that true-to-life heartbreak that charges the ink composing this record, and compels the ear listen intently.
Reba promised the most country music album of her career, and she most certainly delivers with Stronger Than The Truth. But let’s not pretend that traditional country records are this rare phenomenon resigned mostly to relics of the past. Just because something is real country does not mean it’s real good. Yes it’s true, in one song after another, Reba McEntire and producer Buddy Cannon deliver the fine traditional country goods on Stronger Than The Truth, and maybe this is extra special coming from someone with the weight behind their name such as Reba McEntire. But the music is not what makes this album special. It’s the songs and the stories, and of course Reba’s Hall of Fame voice.
Reba spends no time messing around. Right out of the gate she springs a mostly instrumental Western Swing number on you called “Swing All Night Long With You.” And this is not one of those Nashville-style close approximations to Western Swing. Remember, Reba is from Oklahoma, where Bob Wills is still the King. Down to the stand up steel instead of its pedal-laden predecessor, this is Western Swing done right. And there’s not one, but two of these songs, with “No U in Oklahoma” co-written by Reba herself constituting maybe one of the best original Western Swing songs to be released in recent memory.
You better get your jollies out with these tracks though, because most everything else moving forward is slow, and downright merciless in its exploration of the deepest recesses of heartache. “Stronger Than The Truth,” “Storm in a Shot Glass,” and possibly the album’s preeminent track, “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain” feel like an unredacted encapsulation of Reba McEntire’s last few years, presented with incredible honesty, even if they come from the pen of others. Country songs that list off other country songs are not hard to come by. But you forget all those others once “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain” comes on the speakers.
And when you think this record can’t get any more devastating, here comes “Cactus In A Coffee Can.” At this point Reba is showing no quarter on your emotional receptors. It’s like she tasked the entirety of Nashville’s music community to find the most earth shattering story, and then set it off with a fiddle dirge that was sure to not leave a dry eye. “The Bar’s Getting Lower” might have been the runner up in that derby, refusing to deliver a happy ending, with “The Clown” coming in for the bronze, set off by a little piano melody that makes it that much harder to hold yourself together. It’s like Reba is trying to act like a counterbalance to all of the silly and happy songs being sent down the conveyor belt on Music Row, and even with their incredible volume, the scales may still tip in Reba’s favor.
With all the talk of just how country this record is, it’s probably fair to point out that some of the tracks such as “In His Mind” and “Freedom” are a bit more contemporary. But you’re okay with that because these are good songs, and Reba couldn’t represent herself accurately without also including these influences. Overall, one of the album’s strong suits is variety, even with the healthy portions of slow, heartbreaking tracks. The Western Swing tunes spice up the listening experience, and the final song, “You Never Gave Up On Me,” which is dedicated to Reba’s mother, delivers an intimate moment to finish the record.
Even with all of the musical meandering that Reba McEntire has done in her career, there’s still something immediately familiar and comforting about hearing her voice. From the strong efforts of her early career, to the apex of her commercial fame with “Fancy,” and irrespective of her more contemporary efforts, Reba McEntire immediately reminds you of an era in country music where everything made much more sense. Stronger Than The Truth is an album worth doting on not just because it might be Reba McEntire’s most country record to date, but because it very well may be one of her best.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
– – – – – – – – – –
April 5, 2019 @ 7:52 am
“Reba McEntire’s thirty third studio album is a breakup record”
Why doesn’t the media call this her divorce record? They called Miranda Lambert’s, “The Weight of These Wings,” a divorce record. In 1987, Reba’s, “The Last One To Know,” was touted as her divorce record. Is the media not comfortable promoting a divorce record of a 60 year old (her second of her career? Is that why the narrative being pushed is “it’s her countries album ever?” By the way, this album is very much like “The Last One To Know.”
I think “Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain” is a novelty song that sounds neat at first, but despite Reba’s emotion the song doesn’t have legs.
What’s the difference between “Storm in a Shot Glass” and “Going Out Like That?”
“The Bar’s Getting Lower” … this is a K.T. Oslin song. It’s also the best on the album
I don’t think Reba has ever had as many alcohol references in an album. It’s a bit jarring. I get get a buzz just listening to it.
Overall, I like it. It’s a strong effort.
April 5, 2019 @ 7:54 am
It’s not written by K.T. Oslin, just remind me of a song she would have recorded in the 80’s.
April 5, 2019 @ 8:06 am
KT is so underappreciated. Wish her career had lasted longer.
April 5, 2019 @ 10:28 am
I just called it a breakup record instead of a divorce record. Honestly, no thought went into using one word over another, and nothing should be surmised from it.
April 5, 2019 @ 4:19 pm
I wasn’t criticizing your semantics. ‘Stronger Than The Truth’ is best effective when approached from the perspective of it being a breakup or divorce album. Under the context of a country album it loses its focus with songs like “Your Heart” and “Freedom.”
April 5, 2019 @ 11:51 am
I agree that “The bar is getting lower” is the best of an album full of great songs, but the writer was Erin Enderlin….. not KT
travis in va!
April 5, 2019 @ 8:00 am
I have waited in vain for this album, skipping out on all the pre released songs to listen to it like you had to back in the day, all at one time in order! I feel that this is the kind of record you need to hear the whole thing to appreciate its greatness, which is rare for anything mainstream in Nashville today! Sounding traditional, yet fresh, Reba and Buddy hit it out the park! Can’t wait to get my vinyl in the mail, then heading to Target now that I know they have 2 bonus tracks! Long live the queen. Also, props to Reebes for keeping it honest on how country and good this would be. If it gets beaten out for #1 by Brooks&Dunn Reloaded next week, i will be pissed……
April 5, 2019 @ 8:04 am
Reba gave us the good stuff this time around. I listened to both bonus tracks on the Target deluxe edition and While You Were Sleeping is so good it should have made the main album. The other bonus track, Ain’t Got Nothin On My Pain is a Chris Stapleton co-write and it’s solid as well.
April 5, 2019 @ 11:29 am
“While You Were Sleeping” is probably the best uptempo on the record. I wish they had left it on and switched out one of the others. The Stapleton co-write sounds just like everything else he does. It’s nice to hear Reba singing the lyrics instead of him hollering them, though.
April 5, 2019 @ 4:47 pm
I guess I’ll have to go to Target now. How much was it?
April 5, 2019 @ 7:39 pm
It was like 13 dollars here I think, not bad at all. It’s worth it. I actually had to run back to Target tonight and happened to walk by and it looked like it had sold a good many from when I was there this morning.
Lil Dale savin country music hall of fame member class of 2015
April 5, 2019 @ 8:09 am
may be me n reba cud find a burned out van n do a lil settlin down
April 5, 2019 @ 8:33 am
I’ve already commented on the rare -in -these-times quality of this record from the songwriting and the production to reba’s superb performances . you echo my take , trigger . this is a great record and COUNTRY MUSIC fans …..fans of the genre , not just this week’s charts,…….. will recognize it as such . good for reba ….and good for us .
April 5, 2019 @ 9:04 am
Is it a 100% traditional country album? No.
Is it a 100% Reba McEntire album? Yes.
Reba McEntire knows her audience & Stronger Than The Truth is not an album for girls (or boys).
My highlights: “Swing All Night Long With You”, “Tammy Wynette Kind Of Pain”, “No U In Oklahoma” & “The Bar’s Getting Lower”.
April 5, 2019 @ 9:27 am
I am not a fan of Reba, I think her personality is a bit fake on the stage. I say that so I can make it clear that I am not easily swayed by her music, but WOW. This record is something that I hope is a torchbearer for many people to get behind and support, and try to emulate. Beautiful voice. Just damn, what a record.
April 5, 2019 @ 9:34 am
This record is so solid it almost makes up for that sitcom. Great comeback album.
Fiddle Me This
April 5, 2019 @ 9:44 am
Old Town Road remix with Billy Ray Cyrus Review next?
I wonder if Billboard will put this on the Country chart… oh god, hope not.
P.s. I love Reba’s new single. This album is gonna be a good one
Johne The Baptist
April 5, 2019 @ 2:13 pm
It seems to be nonsensical… the song simply isn’t country. Therefore it should not be on the country charts. End of story.
People have taken crazy pills though. Men can be women and vice versa… I guess a hip hop song can be country if it identifies as such.
Fiddle Me This
April 5, 2019 @ 4:27 pm
What’s wrong with men being women and vice versa…??? Isn’t this the year 2019, not 1968…. Love Wins.. Carrie Underwood insert! But country should be country and Old Town Road isn’t country. But if Billy Ray removed the obnoxious trap beat and added some steel and fiddle… It could probably sound decent. The lyrics are juvenile for sure but that’s for a different story, different day
Brad in California
April 5, 2019 @ 10:48 am
Was never a big fan until we saw her in concert with Brooks and Dunn in Las Vegas. Gave me an appreciation for her as an entertainer I hadn’t seen before. Really like the entire album and just bought the whole thing on iTunes. One question…is it just me or does Storm in a Shot Glass sound A LOT like (perish the thought) Better Dig Two by Band Perry?
April 5, 2019 @ 10:49 am
Sounds like pretty good songs. Is it so much to ask for someone of her caliber to record live with musicians and real instruments? This sounds purely digital to me. Anyone else?
travis in virginia
April 5, 2019 @ 12:54 pm
If you go to her fb page, Instagram, or youtube they have behind the scene videos of every song pre released up till today and it shows her and the band in studio cutting live……….reba has always recorded in studio with a band. As s matter of fact, Freedom and You Never Gave Up On Me were done in one take!
April 5, 2019 @ 5:22 pm
Great, very pro. Sounds digital, especially the piano. I prefer a looser style.
April 5, 2019 @ 11:32 am
Out of nowhere Reba shows back up and reminds us why she was such a powerhouse back in the day. Dang fine record.
April 5, 2019 @ 11:48 am
The bar is getting lower takes a big ol handful of true life and throws right in your face…. Awesome song, who wrote it?
April 6, 2019 @ 12:24 am
J, that song was written by Erin Enderlin, Liz Hengber, Kelly Collins and Alex Kline.
April 5, 2019 @ 12:52 pm
One of the best Reba albums in recent memory.
April 5, 2019 @ 1:27 pm
Solid top to bottom! Great to hear Reba with some fiddle and steel again! Reminds me of 1987s “The Last One To Know” album.
April 5, 2019 @ 1:51 pm
I’m excited to listen to this album. But this review reminds me of other reviews Trigger has done in recent years about a female artist putting out great music that will be ignored by radio. I mean radio won’t even play Rainbow by Kacey Musgraves. WTF.
I can’t wait for Sunday night. Hopefully, we will hear Reba sing at the ACMs.
April 5, 2019 @ 2:20 pm
I don’t think radio is a factor at all with this record. It just doesn’t matter.
April 5, 2019 @ 2:31 pm
I’m not going to argue with that, but that also doesn’t mean these songs shouldn’t be on the radio. I’m listening to the album right now and just finished The Clown. Wow. Great song.
April 5, 2019 @ 4:22 pm
Yeah…. what is “lead single?” The weekly release of songs via social media approach spit in the faces of radio.
April 5, 2019 @ 10:09 pm
I don’t think they’re promoting a single to radio. Take the Kacey Musgraves approach. It worked out for her.
April 5, 2019 @ 2:33 pm
MAKE THE DAMN MIRANDA/MAREN TOUR POST SO I CAN GUSH ALREADY
April 5, 2019 @ 4:32 pm
Maren Morris is only 12 dates. Elle King, Ashley McBryde, Pistol Annies, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammock are other rotating opening acts on the tour.
April 5, 2019 @ 5:46 pm
I’m aware, but that’s a large chunk.
April 6, 2019 @ 6:18 am
Isn’t Maren a pop singer? I’m confused?!
April 6, 2019 @ 10:26 am
Call her a lounge singer for all i care! I love her voice and tunes. Can’t wait to sing along and have fun.
April 5, 2019 @ 4:14 pm
The Bar’s Getting Lower has to be a Song of the Year contender. That is a devastatingly true song. What a great record.
April 5, 2019 @ 4:51 pm
I have listened to her record once but I loved it immediately. Sometimes songs or records take time to grow on me with multiple listens. But this just pulled me right in immediately. It was smart to start off with a fast paced country song. Had me toe tapping at work! This record will be entered into normal rotation!
Tammy wynette kind of pain may be a novelty song but there is a story there, substance to it not just re using her song titles. Much better than George & Willie’s novelty duet or other songs that rip song titles as lyrics
April 5, 2019 @ 5:21 pm
To Ms McEntire:
You will probably never read this, and that’s okay.
I have never been a huge fan of your work, simply because it at times has been too far on the pop side of pop Country
and if you were the worst that pop “Country” had to offer then this world would a whole lot better be
But I got on board for what you promised me: A real Country Music album
I’ve fallen for that goat a many time, but I chose to believe that when you called it Country Music, that that’s what it would be.
And you kept that promise, better even than I expected, I think
I knew within the first minute of listening, that this would be an album I would listen to many times
I don’t often commend anybody for anything, I hope you can realize how meaningful it is that I have to say
nicely done, and more importantly, thank you
because I love Country Music, and now I know that you do too.
April 5, 2019 @ 5:26 pm
Reba can do now wrong.
April 5, 2019 @ 5:55 pm
If the album or released singles do not fulfill the reception some think they should, get ready for the genre comments again, and again, and again. That statement has nothing to do with the quality of the album however.
April 5, 2019 @ 9:46 pm
Dear CMA: This album needs to be up for some major awards, not because it is one of those “Let’s through a old name in the pot to make it look like a country show.” This album is solid from back. It reminds me that selling music and actually singing does not have to be bombastic to get your point across. If this music is not played on country radio, it is because you have a 30-year-old twink radio programmer who thinks this is a novelty act. Pay attention to good music, whether it is male or female.
April 5, 2019 @ 10:17 pm
Might be her best album since For My Broken Heart. It’s amazing to have Reba go back to Stone Cold Country in a time when we need it the most. I’ve listened to the album twice now and I have to say its gets better with each listen. Cactus in a coffee can throws you back to her Fancy and The night the Lights Went out In Georgia days in the sense that a video plays in your head and I this is her next single and her next video. Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain is devastating and beautifully constructed song that pays respect to another Queen without being pandering. In His Mind shows us a man who can’t quite give up on his wife who left him believing he will come back, its a song that doesn’t paint the guy as the bad guy which I like. Swing all Night long with you is a fun throw back dance tune that doesn’t fit in the typical 3 minutes, the band gets there time to shine which is nice. Storm in a shot glass is one of the rare contemporary songs on the album and its a blast, can’t wait to hear it live. The Deluxe Edition has two bonus tracks and there fit perfectly with the rest of the album, While you were sleeping is one of the bonus tracks and it starts off giving you one impression and quickly gives you another and I loved it. I could go on with the rest of the tracks, but my comment would turn into a novel.
Thanks for getting this review up so quickly.
April 6, 2019 @ 4:48 am
Just a short reminder: If the great song „Cactus in a coffee can“ would eventually enter the charts now, it would be the second time. It was already a minor hit in 2000, thanks to Jerry Kilgore, one of the „too country for country radio“ Nashville newcomers from that era – quickly, but undeservedly gone, just like Kevin Denney or Matt King.
Like everyone else here, I love Reba’s new album a lot – and of the two legends releasing their new music almost simultaneously, I certainly prefer hers to George’s. Reba’s just cuts a lot deeper. Sure, George Strait sounds smooth and enjoyable as ever, but I guess what gets to me this time is how blatantly he peddles his tequila investment. As if a whole song about it wasn’t already enough product placement, he also has to squeeze the brand into „Every little honky tonk bar“. Too pushy for a man who was always about understatement and style. Sure, Willie also isn’t shy about singing about his high-producing indulgence and mingles his side-business with his music, but he’s never gone as far as doing a direct commercial in song form.
April 6, 2019 @ 7:55 am
Good note on “Cactus in a Coffee Can” Geri!
April 8, 2019 @ 11:26 am
Melonie Cannon recorded Cactus years ago, and just kills it. She also sings BGV on Reba’s version. Coincidence? I think not.
April 7, 2019 @ 3:11 pm
thanks never heard of Jerry Kilgore….listened on youtube, he’s very good.
April 8, 2019 @ 11:46 am
2008 on ” And the Wheels Turn”
April 6, 2019 @ 6:17 am
Totally irrelevant to the subject at hand, I’ve always thought she was beautiful, even when I was in my rock ‘n’ roll phase.
H.P. @ Hillbilly Highways
April 6, 2019 @ 7:09 am
It’s a good album, although I think that when it comes to recent country albums by feisty redheads I still prefer Karly Driftwood’s Too Mean To Die.
April 6, 2019 @ 2:30 pm
Can she please give us an entire Western swing album? That’s all.
April 6, 2019 @ 6:05 pm
With Asleep at the Wheel? Willie did one with them and it was good. But, with Reba’s range … that would be awesome.
April 7, 2019 @ 12:53 pm
I’ve been waiting for 30 years for Reba to do another solid country album. This was well worth the wait.
June 10, 2019 @ 1:26 am
Overall, I’d say it’s one of the strongest albums she’s released in some time. I’m actually not a hardcore country fan; I prefer alternative country or more singer/songwriter material — Lucinda Williams, Chely Wright, Kacey Musgraves. But I enjoy this new record.
I would certainly recommend grabbing the Target Exclusive because it contains 2 bonus tracks that actually deserve to be included on the standard edition.