Busy McEntire finds she still has 'Room to Breathe'

Reba has sold 40 million records, has a TV hit, and she's touring

Music: In Concert, CDs

July 15, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

The twang is unmistakable, the voice friendly and bell-like.

"Yep, this is Reba McEntire. How are you?"

The country music queen and sitcom star is calling from her Nashville home, kicking back before heading out on her summer tour. Already solidly established in the music industry with 25 years invested and more than 40 million records sold, the fiery redhead, who plays 1st Mariner Arena Saturday night, has officially made it in prime time.

Reba, her WB show, has just wrapped up its third season. On it, the Oklahoma native plays Reba Hart, a Texas woman whose husband knocks up his dental hygienist around the same time their teen-age daughter gets pregnant by the star of the high-school football team. Not exactly the Cleavers.

"The show is different, which is probably why people like it," McEntire says.

Before landing the hit sitcom, she had already flexed her natural acting skills in the lead of Annie Get Your Gun, a 2001 Broadway role for which the performer garnered rave reviews.

It was during rehearsals for the show that she auditioned for WB and won the lead in Reba. Originally, the TV show went through several titles -- Deep in the Hart and Sally were the main two -- before executives settled on the one that made sense. (Hello! One of the biggest female performers in country music who's on a first-name basis with millions is in the lead.)

"The schedule is pretty easy to balance," McEntire says. "We do the TV show in L.A. August through March. We do the music and touring in the summer, so it all works out fine."

The acting hasn't overshadowed the singer's first love. She put out her 29th album, Room to Breathe, last year. A gold seller, the record is one of her better efforts of the past decade, and it's her first CD in four years.

"It was time to get back in the studio, because I missed it," McEntire says, "I really don't know if [the album] is all that different from what I've done. It's autobiographical because I'm doing all the songs I've always done: the sad songs, a little bluegrass, a little gospel, an uptempo tune, the story songs." What Reba McEntire album would be complete without a story tune or two? "Moving Oleta" is one of those tug-at-the-heartstrings country tales McEntire fans love so much. Centering on a loved one suffering with Alzheimer's, the detailed ballad is an album highlight.

"Those types of story songs have kinda prepared me for acting in a way," she says. "You can do the story songs in your head and play the movie out. It all goes hand in hand for me, the acting and the singing."

During the sitcom's off period, the hard-working performer, who was raised on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, shares a 14,000-square-foot Nashville mansion with her husband of 15 years, Narvel Blackstock, and their 14-year-old son, Shelby.

"He's shooting up," McEntire says of her son. She pauses and adds, "He's shooting up tall, you know. Really growing. That didn't come out right at first, huh?"

McEntire's realness shines through everything she does. Singing on stage these days "is more relaxed for me," she says. "After you're in front of a camera week after week, it's a fun change to be back singing on stage in front of your fans. It's easier now."

Reba McEntire performs at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St., Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets are $27.50- $65 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.

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