Reba McEntire – Sing It Now

Like a compelling football game featuring her home state Oklahoma Sooners, Reba McEntire’s foray into gospel music on recent album Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope is a tale of two drastically different halves. Whether the Sooners blow a big lead or mount an historic comeback depends on the listener’s preferences when it comes to Christian music.

If you grew up in a church that preferred hymnals over modern praise and worship music, McEntire’s first ten songs are as much a part of your childhood soundtrack as whatever was on alternative radio stations back then. Regardless of what you believe as an adult, these songs are surely tied to your earliest memories of family, friends, and fellowship. And there’s enough melody and harmony in these compositions to please fans of just about any type of old-time music, regardless of your raising.

Her selection of classics begins with the best-known anthem of child-like faith, “Jesus Loves Me.” She graduates from learning a simple song in Sunday school to singing in front of the whole congregation on “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” The latter pairs McEntire with a piano player, reminiscent of Willie Nelson’s bare-bones gospel album, Family Bible. From there, she incorporates bluegrass, with Bill Gaither’s go-to pickers the Isaacs guest appearing on a medley of “In the Garden” and “Wonderful Peace.” She even sprinkles some soul into her treatment of “Oh Happy Day” – a sincere nod to the African-American church music that begat rock ‘n’ roll.

Timeless songs sung by a woman with an undeniably great voice then give way to ten cuts of generic, radio-friendly country with lyrics about Jesus. A lot of cynics dismiss most mainstream Christian songs as rip-offs of popular music, replacing sex and drugs with the death, burial, and resurrection. You can’t rationally call McEntire a rip-off for singing modern country, but those same critics are going to have a field day with hashtag-ready titles like “God and My Girlfriends.”

Again, most people’s favorite half of the album will be informed by personal experiences and, if you choose to have them, worship preferences. As for me and my house cat, McEntire’s best half is unquestionably the first – a collection of classic hymns that read like the track list from one of those deceptively amazing Tennessee Ernie Ford dollar bin albums.

Reba McEntire
Sing It Now: Songs of Faith & Hope
[Nash Icon/Big Machine/Capitol]