"We’ve got a lot of years and memories to cover so I hope you all enjoy the journey," Reba McEntire told the sold-out audience at the Sands Bethehem Event Center Sunday night.
And Reba, indeed, take the audience on a jounrey, a delightful one. Dressed completely in black – knee-high boots, leggings, tank top – and backed by a 9-piece band on a two-tiered set – Reba gave a 90-minute show that covered her 40-year career — from her early days in Nashville, through her movie, TV and Broadway career.
She sang and told great stories – but not too much talking – and the show moved fast. She felt real, and sincere and was very likeable.
Songs ranged from sad, sad country ballads to upbeat barn-stoppers to songs from her movie and TV careers. The show revealed her remarkable string of hits and vocal staying power. The sound from the band was strong.
Here’s a recap of the journey.
Reba opened with "Can’t Even Get the Blues" – her first No. 1 hit, from 1983. She said it was her fifth single off her sixth album – "to let you know I’m not an overnight success."
She moved quickly to her 1996 hit "The Fear of Being Alone" and then the hit "One Promise Too Late."
Next up was "How Blue," from Reba’s "My Kind of Country Album." She said the song and album came after her time on the Urban Country Tour, which took her a bit away from the traditional country songs she loves. The song featured lovely harmonies from her two female singer/musicians.
Next story/song: Reba said she was looking for songs to record and went to visit hitmaker Harlan Howard, who wrote "I Fall to Pieces" for Patsy Cline. But she didn’t like the first two songs he offered up and felt bad. When she heard the third, she said, "The hair stood up on my arms. It was one of the saddest country songs I ever heard." She recorded "Somebody Should Leave" and it was her fourth No. 1 record.
Reba sang the song from her first video, the ballad "Whoever’s In New England," and "Little Rock," a foot-stomper from that album.
She moved on to the 1990s and sang a cover of "You’re No Good" which she recorded on her Grammy-nominated "Starting Over Again" album. It was actually one of four shortened songs in a medley of 1990s songs, including "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter," "Walk On" and "I’d Rather Ride Around With You."
Reba said by that time in her career she was "sick to death" of short videos and wanted to do a movie. She got a script, an audition in which she was told she would be "dirty and hot" and not have fancy makeup or hair, and won the part of a gun-toting survivalist in the 1990 monster film "Tremors." She sang "Why Not Tonight," which she sang at the end of the movie.
Up next was the famous "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," written by Bobby Russell. Reba said Russell pitched the song to "all the famous singers" of the time and no one wanted it so he gave it to his wife Vicki Lawrence, who recorded it in 1972. It was Lawrence’s first No. 1 record, Reba said, and "I loved it so much that 20 years later I recorded it."
"Is There Life Out There" from 1991 got the crowd clapping.
For the Grammy-winning duet "Does He Love You," Reba shared the stage with her singer/guitarist/fiddler Jennifer Wrinkle, who played the other woman/Linda Davis part. Their vocals blended beautifully as they stood on opposite sides of the stage, but were juxtaposed against each other on the video screen. Eventually they came together for the final chorus.
Reba went western swing on "Nothin’ to Lose," which gave the opportunity to spotlight each member of her band, which included a lap steel guitar player from Bethehem named Bruce Bouton.
Up next was a newer song on the playlist, "Strange," the first single from Reba’s 2009 studio album (second to last), "Keep on Loving You."
Another Reba story involved another country superstar, Kelly Clarkson, who Reba said she has known since Clarkson won "American Idol" in 2002 and they sang together on the finale. Clarkson is now Reba’s daughter in law – she married her son Brandon – and Reba announced that the couple is going to have a baby this summer.
Reba sang Clarkson’s heartfelt hit "Because of You," which they recorded on Reba’s "Duets" album.
As the concert neared the end, Reba told the story about getting to fulfill a lifetime dream and play Annie Oakley on Broadway in "Annie Get Your Gun." She said it was a lot of work and called it the "highlight of my career." She didn’t sing any songs from the show, but went on to talk about her TV sitcom (2001-2007) "Reba," which she said "wasn’t work at all." She sang "I’m a Survivor," the theme song of the show that followed the adventures of Reba as a single mom.
A quick trio of newer songs — "Take it Back"/"Why Haven’t I Heard From You" and "Turn on the Radio" – wrapped up the main set before Reba left the stage to get ready for her encore.
She returned in a stunnning short, red sparkly dress for a heartfelt "Fancy," which depicts a young woman overcoming poverty to become a successful courtesan. In the song, the woman’s mother spends her last penny to buy her a red dancing dress and tells her not to let her down. It was a strong ending, and Reba did more than not let the audience down – she lifted them up.
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