Last year, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn, two of Nashville’s most venerable acts, took a look at country’s declining box office and did something smart: They teamed up for a co-headlining tour that gave Garth Brooks a run for his money.
Now, with their second joint outing nearly under way, come their new albums, Reba’s If You See Him and Brooks & Dunn’s If You See Her, each named after the duet single ”If You See Him/If You See Her” that appears on both records. With that, the similarity ends.
The single is really more Reba’s than Brooks & Dunn’s. A big, bombastic ballad, it’s representative of the almost wholly adult-contemporary heartache songs that make up her album. Furthermore, the story — former lovers confiding their still-smoldering passion to a mutual friend — is right out of the afternoon soaps. Perhaps by design. Reba, the only woman in the country who can get six syllables out of the word ”him,” seems less interested in pure music than in boosting her acting career. Two songs, ”Forever Love” and ”All This Time,” will appear in her TV movie scheduled for this fall.
Where Reba overplays her angst, Ronnie Dunn internalizes his. That serves him well on B&D’s surprisingly muscular, diverse clutch of songs, which weaken only when Kix Brooks takes his solo turns. Otherwise, B&D are inspired on the waltz of Roger Miller’s ”Husbands and Wives,” the Western-swing jitterbug of Brooks and Bob DiPiero’s ”Way Gone,” and the gritty morality tale ”Born and Raised in Black and White.”
Through the years, B&D have evolved from trendy line-dance heroes to crafters of commercial, soulful country, while Reba has embraced a hermetically sealed brand of artificial country-pop. With so many other females now challenging her on the charts, Reba might do well to try something really bold: Explore her country roots with a vengeance. Him: C+ Her: B+