Prime Cuts: Back to God, There is a God, Softly and Tenderly
Reba McEntire has taken the road most travelled. When many country music veterans who find their star power waning with fewer and fewer top-tiered charting hits, they often revert to doing an oldies album or a Christmas record or as McEntire does in this instance, a Christian music project. It's easy to discount this as a nail on McEntire's #1 streaking days, but this is far from the Oklahoma native's dirge. Rather, this is a blossoming labor of love. For decades, the country music queen has had always wanted to cut a Gospel record. However, the fear of overshadowing her own sister (Susie Luchsinger who is a Gospel artist) had put this love effort on the backburner until now. And we are thankful that she has finally released this double-disc album on Nash Icon records.
With 20 song, generosity certainly has the upper hand when it comes to the number of tracks on this record. Disc one features McEntire adding her Southern drawl to the beloved hymns of the church. While disc two finds the red-headed singer singing ten (mostly) new songs. Disc one is more or less predictable and is frankly the duller of the two instalments. McEntire often doesn't reinvent the hymns but she simply imbues them with her seasoned and thoughtful readings. Bringing back to mind her earlier days where she was decidedly more country and less constrained by commercialism, there's a streak of unadulterated freedom and sincerity in her intonations when she sings familiar hymns such as "Amazing Grace," "In the Garden" and the gorgeous simple but so moving, "Jesus Loves Me." The highlight on disc one is when McEntire joins voices with her daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson and long-time pal Trisha Yearwood on a flawless version of "Softly and Tenderly."
Disc two is perfect in every sense of the word. First and foremost, you get to hear McEntire not just a seminal interpreter of songs. Rather, you witness the country veteran as a worshipper. Seguing in effortless from disc one is a Tony Wood, Joseph Habedank and Michael Farren worship piece and title track "Sing It Again." Then she rattles the church's windows with a rousing Gospel-ish version of "I've Got the Lord on My Side" (a song co-written by McEntire and her mother). Then she delivers some funky blues with "God and My Girlfriends," an ode of thanks for her vertical and horizontal relationships.
Lead single "Back to God" was first released by the song's co-writer Randy Houser. McEntire adds finesse and a touch of realism to this gorgeous ballad that speaks of how every circumstance of life ought to bring us back to God. The song's attention paid to details make this song extra special. McEntire doesn't just sing for the average pew sitting and Bible holding Christian, there are songs here that function as great apologetic pieces for the unbeliever. "There is a God," a failed single for Lee Ann Womack, lights up in McEntire's hands. Never argumentative or preachy; "There's a God" is one of the most ear-catching defence of God's existence in music history.
At the end of the day, we are grateful McEntire has taken the wrong most travelled. Without the pressures of competition and trying to line up with Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood for a hit, McEntire sounds relaxed, sincere, and all so powerful.
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