By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

January 22, 2004

Reba McEntire
"Room to Breathe"
MCA Records


Shania and Faith may have the buzz, but Reba's got the goods.

McEntire has settled nicely into a midcareer groove that allows her to collect the occasional piece of hardware from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association - and host their awards shows - while putting out an occasional CD.She's even become a full-time comic actor, heading her "Reba" sitcom on the WB and earning a Golden Globe nomination to boot. But that's no surprise to anyone who saw her as the gun-totin' survivalist in the original "Tremors" movie in 1990.

"Room to Breathe," so named because McEntire took some time off to do just that, is her first studio album since 1999. And she is singing better than ever. Gone are most of the showy swoops and slides and other gymnastics that marked much of her '90s work. She's letting her natural voice do the heavy lifting, and it serves her well on a very diverse program.

Most of the songs are either written or co-written by women, and the styles and subjects range from the hard country of loss ("Once You've Learned to Be Lonely" and "Secret") to gospel ("Love Revival" and "Sky Full of Angels").

The first single, the banjo- and fiddle-soaked "I'm Gonna Take That Mountain," was Reba's 67th charting single. It's the kind of song - about a woman fighting against all odds - that McEntire does so well.

McEntire is at her best here, and she leaves her listener with the feeling that she's shared something intimate. It's a talent the buzz babes can only dream about.