Inspirational songs in dark times
Reba McEntire confident ‘a lot of people will be able to relate’
When a celebrity goes through a deeply personal situation, it can feel like the whole world wants to know the details. Reba McEntire, the country singer and popular TV actress of the WB’s “Reba,” experienced this in 2015 when she split from her husband of 26 years. And after the tabloid attention died down and fans gave her privacy, her friends still urged her to vent about her feelings.
“My girlfriends would always want me to talk about it,” McEntire, 61, said recently in a phone interview. But she wasn’t ready yet. Then, a friend sent her a song called “From the Inside Out,” which had lyrics such as “Allow me some solitude, it’s good for a soul ... give me room to cower underneath my fear.” McEntire, who was recording an inspirational album at the time, was struck by the words.
“I said, ‘Wow, this says it so plainly.’ I don’t want to talk about it now, I want to heal from the inside out. And when I do heal, then I’ll be able to talk about all of my pain and what I’ve been through,” McEntire said. “So that’s a very powerful song that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to.”
McEntire knows a lot about relatability through music — her instincts for songs with messages that strike a nerve have powered a four-decade career, which continues with the recent release of her 31st studio album. Her first gospel project, “Sing It Now: Songs of Hope and Faith,” is a double album that features traditional hymns on the first half (“Jesus Loves Me,” “Amazing Grace,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”), and is accompanied by contemporary tracks on the second half, including “From the Inside Out.”
The lead single is one of the modern songs, “Back to God,” originally recorded by Randy Houser on his debut album about nine years ago. McEntire’s label head, Scott Borchetta of Big Machine’s NASH Icons, flagged it as a single as soon as he heard the tune, which is about people turning to their faith in difficult times — and for some fans, it’s a very calming song in the current never-ending news cycle.
“People have said, ‘It’s so timely, we need it right now,’” McEntire said. “To me, I think we’ve always needed it throughout the history of us, ever since we’ve been on the Earth. We’ve always needed to turn back to God.”
McEntire has never been shy about her faith, although she calls herself more spiritual than religious. (“Religion starts putting up boundaries and then arguments, and I really don’t want to argue.”) But she never thought about releasing an inspirational/gospel record until two separate colleagues brought it up a couple years ago. She found the process incredibly healing as she reinterpreted her favourite religious songs, which used to be a popular career move for country singers.
“When I first got started, everybody put a gospel song in the show. That was just the thing to do. Because that’s our heritage, that’s our roots,” she said. “Because we all probably either grew up singing in church, it’s just a part of it. It’s such a big part of who we are.”
McEntire admitted she got emotional while recording several hymns, including “How Great Thou Art,” which she calls “a love letter to God”: “I would go in the control room and listen to it and sob,” she recalled. Other recording sessions, however, were just fun, like her rendition of “Softly and Tenderly,” which features her friend, Trisha Yearwood, and daughter-in-law, Kelly Clarkson, who is married to McEntire’s stepson.
And although the message of faith and hope on her latest album can help people through divisive times, McEntire plans to stay far away from any specific politics.
“I am put on this earth to help people through music. I don’t get involved with politics, I don’t do that,” McEntire said. “That’s not my job. I’m an entertainer, I’m a singer, I love to perform. So I stick with the genre that I’m in and try to help as many people as possible.”
Reba McEntire has recorded her first gospel album, "Sing It Now: Songs of Hope and Faith."