In­spi­ra­tional songs in dark times

Reba McEn­tire con­fi­dent ‘a lot of peo­ple will be able to re­late’

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - EMILY YAHR

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."

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