Credit must go to Reba McEntire for making a concerted choice to record a classic country album, working with a range of songwriters to make music that appeals to her already established audience. She makes no play for younger fans or the radio or even rootsy Americana fans either. Stronger Than The Truth sticks close to the slick, polished brand of country that made her name and the result is something listenable, credible and really damn enjoyable.
The album opens with ‘Swing All Night With You’, putting the western back into country music. She sounds like she’s really enjoying herself and so it’s no surprise that later in the album she returns to this style for her kiss off ‘No U in Oklahoma’ which is totally brilliant. Moving onwards and facing the truth of a failed relationship is central to the album, especially on the title track Stronger Than the Truth, which is a really poignant song. She sings this one with a real sense of personal heartache, selling it as well as the queen of country music suffering herself. Talking of Tammy Wynette, Reba gives one of the best performances of her career on album standout Tammy Wynette Kind of Pain. Co-written by Brandy Clark you can only hope this song is added to both their setlists because it already sounds like a stone cold country classic. Tammy would surely be proud to hear her influence being honoured in a such a powerful song.
And if that wasn’t emotional enough Reba then hits us with a devastating version of Cactus in a Coffee Can. I must say when the song started I thought it was a little cheesy and cliche but by the end I was a blubbering wreck. She goes for the jugular with Your Heart too, really letting the strings weep. The song warns women against falling too much in love – reminding us not to lose too much of yourself before a cowboy inevitably smashes his boot into your heart. Reba is the wise owl of country music, imparting her hard won wisdom in every note.
And Reba still sings story songs as well as ever – distilling a real sense of haunting loneliness in The Clown, In His Mind and The Bar’s Getting Lower. And the rockier songs like Storm in a Shot Glass and Freedom are a nice contrasting change of pace – I found myself loudly singing along to both. You can feel these aren’t just songs that someone has picked out for her – they tell us something about who she is in her life right now. By finishing with ‘Freedom’ and ‘You Never Gave Up On Me’ the narrative of this album is strength, renewal and always believing in yourself. That last song is for her mother but also sounds to me like a tribute to her fans for sticking by her too.
The fact this charted lower than the Brooks and Dunn covers album (a shameless attempt to appeal to younger audiences) is a little disappointing. However Reba can rest easy knowing that she has produced a collection of songs that really say, and mean, something.
Stronger Than The Truth hits you in the heartstrings, just like the best country music should.