Country

Reba McEntire on Revisiting Her Classics, 'Ted Lasso' and Remaking 'Does He Love You' With Dolly Parton: 'It's Confrontation on Valium'

Reba McEntire
Robby Klein*

Reba McEntire

On her Revived, Remixed, Revisited box set, out Friday (Oct. 8), Reba McEntire reimagines some of her most popular songs in new ways.

On Revived, the country superstar takes 10 classics and re-records them with new arrangements, reflecting how they have changed in her live show over the decades. For Remixed, 10 of her hits get the dance treatment at the hands of some of today’s top remixers. On Revisited, she and producer Dave Cobb take 10 vintage tracks and strip them down, including her famous love triangle ode, 1993’s “Does He Love You,” re-created with Dolly Parton taking on Linda Davis’s role.

“Revived” also describes how the triple Grammy winner is feeling about her career. Last year -- just before the pandemic -- McEntire returned to Universal Music Group Nashville, where she spent the first 32 years of her vaunted career recording for the Mercury and MCA imprints.

One of the first things UMGN president Cindy Mabe asked to do was review McEntire’s catalog now that the icon had come home after a 10-year absence.

“I was flabbergasted,” McEntire says. “She asked me, ‘You haven't spent that much time with your catalog? How come?’ And I said, ‘Well, I'm looking forward to what we can record next, not what have we done in the past.’ And she said, ‘I think it's time.’ My team went over to Universal to listen to all their ideas. I haven't been shown that much attention from a record label in I don't know how long. I was flattered. I was overwhelmed. It was heartwarming. I was very honored.”

McEntire talked about the box set with Billboard, as well as -- somewhat inconceivably -- her first duet with Parton, how the pandemic has changed her, and why she has no desire to do a solo Vegas run after her December residency with Brooks & Dunn ends.

Do you see this box set primarily as a gift to the fans who have been with you along the way, or as a way to bring in new fans -- some of whom may have learned about you from the unexpected TikTok success of "I'm a Survivor"?

Absolutely both. My fans are so loyal and have been with me forever. To be able to do the songs that they have listened to for years, I think they'll get a big kick out of it… Just to help conjure up the great times and good memories… There’s [also] going to be people listening today that weren't even born [when I cut some of these songs]. A lot of people listening today are going to be saying, “Well, that's what mom or grandma were talking about. I like it too.” That'd be wonderful. I’d love that.

For Revisited, your music director came up with the new arrangements based on how the songs evolved in concert. You’ve said you love “Consider Me Gone” even more now. Was there any other song that you liked how it sounds now better than the original?

Totally. [1988’s] “New Fool at an Old Game.” I just liked it better: “I don’t know the rules/ Teach me how to play.” At this time, [boyfriend] Rex [Linn] and my relationship was still young, and it was just like a love story song. So I loved it. It meant more to me now.

You and Dolly Parton have been friends for decades. How on earth have you two never done a song together before?

I'm agreeing with you 100%. I'm shell shocked. How have we not done one? Every time I’d hear Dolly doing a duet with somebody else, I would get a little sad or a little jealous, like, “I want to do a duet with Dolly.” Everything happens for a reason and timing is everything. So it worked out perfectly

Did you call Dolly directly?

No, I wouldn't put her on the spot like that. I thought it was best for managers to go to managers, and build a proper channel.

Were you were you able to record it in the studio together?

No. But we did do the video together. It was during COVID, the heavy part. I did my part with Dave Cobb and the band and then we sent it over to Dolly to do at her leisure.

How did you approach the song differently?

The way that Dolly and I approached it, it's like confrontation on Valium. It's kind of like, “I know you. You know me. We're adults.” Whereas when I did it with Linda, that was mid-‘90s, and it was like catfight city. Now it’s like, “I don't like him. Do you like him? You can have him.” So it was totally different. It was confrontation, but not hatred.

It's fun as a listener to see what your duet partner brings out in you.

I've done that song at private parties, and we get people bidding on who wants to come up and be the man in the song. We put him on the stage on a stool between me and whoever is singing the other girl part. It’s a real cute, fun thing to do to help raise money when we do benefits. Every time you sing it, the atmosphere and the person you're singing with dictates how you're going to sing it.

How aware were you of Dave Cobb before you worked with him on the Revisited collection?

I did not know who Dave Cobb was, sadly enough. I was always an admirer of his work. I didn't know it was him: Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton. When I got to meet him, he was so laid back and fun, always had a smile on his face. When we got into the studio, there were five musicians and then they would bring in a fiddle or maybe a steel.

His approach is so different. It's not, “We’re going to feature the band.” It was pretty much, “Y’all stay out of her way and when she comes in to sing, everybody back off.” I was there while they were performing, and it's never been that way before. It's always centered on the band: “Let's get the track, and then, Reba, we’ll come back to you later.” But I like to sing with the band. I hope I'm inspiring them, because they inspire me to almost perform while I’m doing the song.

Have you talked with Dave about working together again?

Yes, I have. I work with different producers, because different songs call for that -- but I told Dave, I'd definitely love to work more with him in the future.

On Remixed, Lafemmebear, who is a Black queer artist, remixed “I’m A Survivor.” You're a gay icon. How important was it to you to have gay representation on this album? Or am I reading too much into it?

I think you are. I didn't pick any of these people who did the top remixes, because that's not my forte. I let people who know, who are good at it, who want to be a part of it. But Lafemmebear was perfect to have on it. I think “Survivor” turned out wonderfully well.

I can't imagine the time they had to sit and remix [these songs]. And to put all that together. I would love -- probably for about five minutes -- to sit and watch how they do it, because that's really tedious work, I would think. My attention span is like a four-year-old. After five minutes, I’d be like, “OK. Good job, people keep up the good work.”

Was there a song on the Remixed collection that really turned your head around?

“I’m A Survivor” would be the one, but Dave Audé did a great job on “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain.” It's always been one of my favorites. “Survivor” was the one that I was like, “I don't believe so…” but it turned out great.

Is it intentional that “Fancy” is the only song that is on all three discs?

Yes, “Fancy” is the A, Number One song of my career. I don't end the show unless I sing “Fancy." When people say “Reba McEntire,” no matter what age group, they say, “Oh yeah, ‘Fancy.’ Redhead, red dress.” It all kind of goes together, so “Fancy” is the one that can be done all three ways.

You and Brooks and Dunn have the final dates of your multi-year Las Vegas residency coming in December. What will you miss about that?

Everything. I love going to Vegas. I love my hotel room. I love that stage. I love getting to hang with Kix [Brooks] and Ronnie [Dunn] and be on stage with them and cut up with them. Friends and fans come from all over the world to see us. It's just so prestigious. It's just the best. I'm going to miss it terribly.

Could it be revived at some later date?

I would be thrilled if it would.

What about a solo Vegas residency for you?

I don't know if I would want to do one by myself since I did the one with Kix and Ronnie. It was easy. It was fun. It was relaxed. To do one, all the pressure on you, to sell the tickets and to get the audience in there… I could do it [but] would I want to? I think it'd be more fun to have somebody that you could play off of.

Maybe you and George Strait. He's already hanging out in Las Vegas.

That would be a blast. I’d love it. George and I toured together with Conway Twitty back in in the ‘80s, and that was a lot of fun. I got to see George a couple of weekends ago in Oklahoma City. He was getting the Western Heritage Award and Rex was emceeing, so we were there for that. He’s going stronger than ever.

A lot of artists have said the pandemic made them realize they don’t want to return to the hectic pace they had before. Have you had any rethinking during this time?

Yeah, in every area. We're more selective of the things we do. On this tour, we’re going back out in January. We’ll do three shows a weekend, where I used to do four. I went in to record a project yesterday and I got home and I was like, “I’m exhausted" and Rex said, “Well, you're just not used to doing this.” I said, “Well, I don't know what I'm going to have to do to get in shape again” -- because when we go out to travel, I forget half the things I'm supposed to pack. I'm just out of practice. So it's gonna just take a while to get back in the swing of things.

You have a holiday movie coming up as part of a two-picture deal with Lifetime. What was it like acting with John Schneider on Christmas In Tune?

We had a blast working together. He's easy to get along with. He was prepared. He was just so good. He and I did a concert in California years ago at a rodeo arena, maybe before or after the rodeo, and that's the only time I remember working with him. He couldn't think of another time, either. Oh yes, we did. We co-hosted with Mac Davis, the Academy of Country Music Awards show in the ‘80s.

Speaking of TV, this season, you were one of the legendary female country names that Ted Lasso used to leave tickets under for Roy Kent on Ted Lasso. Are you a fan? You joked on Instagram about not being able to get a ticket to the Emmys because it was under Kent’s name.

I love that show. I wish we had more shows that make you feel good and laugh and cry, but come away feeling really good about it.

You revisit your past in a new way with this collection. Are you working on a new studio album?

No. I'm always looking for songs, but nothing right now. Once we get this one off the ground, then we'll start really diving into it.