"HAVE I GOT A DEAL FOR YOU." Reba McEntire. MCA. "THIRTEEN." Emmylou Harris. Warner Bros. Two country stars--one on the rise, one re-ignited--have new albums that point up the difference between an above-average singer and a great one.
The above-average tag applies to McEntire, who continues her back-to-the-basics approach. The Oklahoma singer sounds like the heir apparent to Patsy Cline's Queen of Heartache crown in these songs of lovin', cheatin' and losin'. What McEntire needs is a greater sense of personality. Even on the best numbers, she exhibits little personal vision--you feel that you're listening to a good singer, not a great artist.
That's never a problem on "Thirteen," which is easily Emmylou Harris' best since the live "Last Date" album in 1982 and her most thoroughly satisfying studio album since 1979's "Blue Kentucky Girl."
After last year's ambitious but unrealized concept album "The Ballad of Sally Rose," Harris returns to peak form with a collection that is more conventional in form but far more powerful in execution. In a way, this is also a theme-oriented album, with the majority of songs about the pain of love parted--by choice ("You're Free to Go"), by circumstance ("I Had My Heart Set on You") and even by death ("Your Long Journey").
Her version of Bruce Springsteen's "My Father's House" brings out the song's gospel underpinnings more fully than the original, while Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" has rarely had a more disarming reading. When she teams up with John Anderson for "Just Someone I Used to Know," they turn in a stunning tapestry of harmonies equal to the best of the Louvins and the Everly Brothers.