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Stagecoach 2009: Reba McEntire and country changes

April 26, 2009 |  1:19 am


You can credit — or blame — Reba McEntire at least to an extent for the popification of country music over the last two decades. As one of the most successful country singers of the '80s, the Oklahoma singer applied her exceptionally elastic pipes during the '90s to an ever broader range of material with considerable success, and a goodly chunk of Nashville tried to follow.

But although hits such as “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” and “The Fear of Being Alone,” both of which turned up in her set Saturday at Stagecoach, may have showcased her flexibility as a vocalist, they sacrificed the compact power of the more traditional country material of her musical peak in the mid-'80s.

She’s established herself as a voice that often sings about challenges many of the women in her audience have faced, including loneliness and romantic isolation as well as (if it can be said that “Because of You” is about anything at all) guilt and paranoia.

Still, onstage she has few equals, and her expanded career, which has come to include movie, stage and television roles, has only enhanced her ability to work a massive crowd with the greatest of ease. Her 9-piece band brings great power and sensitivity to her material, no easy task Saturday evening after a stiff desert wind whipped up after sundown. McEntire’s reddish locks were buffeted by the breeze, and even wearing a long-sleeved sweater through the end of the set, she looked a bit chilled.

She made it look, and sound, so easy.

-- Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times