Country star Reba is the queen of reinvention. Her latest incarnation is coming to Rupp.
What’s your favorite Reba Moment?
Perhaps it centers around any of the hit country covers she fashioned over the past four decades first popularized by such disparate artists as the Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown” in 1989), Bobby Gentry (“Fancy” in 1991) and Vickie Lawrence (“The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” in 1992)?
Then again, it might be found in the singles she originated that her Okie-bred vocal charge and cross-generational country appeal turned into chart-topping smashes.
Among them: “You’re the First Time I Thought About Leaving” (1983), “How Was I to Know” (1996) and “Consider Me Gone” (2009).
Maybe you have favored the veteran country singer in your living room via any number of televised performances at awards ceremonies for the Grammys (where she has won three trophies over a 31-year period), the Country Music Association (where she’s has won six awards) or the Academy of Country Music (where she’s taken home 17 prizes).
Well, here’s mine, and it has nothing to do with music, accolades or the ongoing commercial popularity that has kept Reba McEntire – oops, she goes professionally as simply “Reba” these days – one of the most successful country acts of the last 45 years.
My Reba Moment deals with worms.
You got it. Worms. Giant, burrowing worm-beasts with incisors like ice picks that slithered under a sleepy Nevada town back in 1990 for the horror film “Tremors.” There, alongside star Kevin Bacon, was Reba blasting the monster worms to kingdom come with the kind of ammo that befitted the tough-knuckled survivalist she was playing.
Imagine Annie Oakley in an “Alien” movie. That’s my Reba Moment.
Why cite a 32-year-old bit of monster movie camp as a defining snapshot in a vanguard country music career? Because one of the true distinguishing aspects to Reba’s artistic legacy has been its crossover capability. But it’s not the kind of crossover one normally associates with a country artist.
In most instances, the term applies to a performer who steps outside of the genre their music is most readily associated with. Country performers do that all the time – too often, in fact – by appropriating broad accents of pop, rock and even hip-hop to make their music more bankable. Reba hasn’t taken that road. Her music remained entrenched in feisty, affirmative honky-tonk ruminations and a gallery of mid-tempo works and ballads that have let loose the torchier country spirit within her singing.
Offstage, though, Reba has felt free to pursue most any project of her liking – with or without her music. The homespun appeal that sits at the center of her artistic profile has never dimmed, although the places she has taken it have been remarkably diverse.
Here are just some of the familiar and forgotten settings Reba has visited as a singer, as an actress and as a country music ambassador.
▪ Playing a quick-witted single mom from Texas over six full seasons (from 2001 to 2007) in the popular sitcom that bore her name: “Reba.”
▪ Embracing her inner Annie Oakley by playing the famed sharpshooter in a 1995 television adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s “Buffalo Gals” with co-stars Anjelica Huston, Melanie Griffith and Sam Elliot.
▪ Taking her Oakley incarnation to the max by starring in a 2001 Broadway revival of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
▪ Co-starring in “South Pacific in Concert from Carnegie Hall” in 2006 with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Alec Baldwin.
▪ Co-hosting the 1994 edition of the American Music Awards with Meat Loaf (the singer/actor who died last week) and Will Smith.
▪ Performing her 1993 hit “The Heart Won’t Lie” with duet partner and fellow Okie Vince Gill in an episode of the Burt Reynolds TV comedy “Evening Shade.”
▪ Singing the National Anthem at “WrestleMania VIII” in 1992, during the height of the Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage era.
Count Rupp Arena as another of the locales Reba has journeyed to through the decades, albeit in a more expected concert setting. She has been in some impressive company for those visits, too. In September 2010, she co-headlined at Rupp with George Strait. In February 1996, she split a bill with Brooks & Dunn. And in October 1994, she brought along a Nicholasville singer who had been making waves in and out of Nashville by the name of John Michael Montgomery.
So what has become of Reba’s recording career? When she hasn’t been blasting monster worms, packing pistols on Broadway or performing in arenas around the country, how has the singer maintained her ability to create appealing country hits?
Well, the truth is her knack for it never really went away. True, the world of modern country has somewhat distanced itself from her and other elder artists in favor of a succeeding generation of performers geared to the more fashionable requirements of country radio. Reba, however, marches on by honoring her past. Her newest album, in fact, was designed to do exactly that.
Titled “Revived Remixed Revisited,” the 2021 triple-disc set sports new recordings of old hits (“Revived”), a set of remixed versions of vintage Reba recordings (“Remixed,” obviously) and a set of 10 hits re-recorded with leaner, rootsier arrangements than those featured on the original versions (“Revived”).
The “Revived” disc is especially intriguing, as it pairs Reba with Grammy-winning Americana producer Dave Cobb, known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and John Prine. It stands as one of the more insightful and unexpected entries in Reba’s 45-year recording catalog.
“I keep getting asked, ‘What can you do next?’ Reba told me in an interview ahead of her 1988 Rupp concert. “That’s really funny to me, because when I got into this business, I didn’t know anything about it. I just worked hard and tried to keep up with everybody.
“We didn’t really know what to do so we just sort of made it up for ourselves as we went along.”
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 28
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine.
Tickets: Available tickets are $52.50 to $188 through ticketmaster.com. Caitlyn Smith opens.