Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor (MCA Nashville)

Reba McEntire has become a multimedia force of nature, conquering Broadway, movies and now television. That's why her third greatest-hits package couldn't have come at a better time - it's a reminder that Reba became who she is by first simply making great country music.

The album's subtitle, I'm A Survivor, announces its theme. Songs about the ways men and women hurt each other ("Take It Back") sit side by side with odes to the healing power of love ("One Honest Heart") and warnings that our heroine is not putting up with any nonsense ("Why Haven't I Heard From You"). The overall picture is of a woman who's been through the wringer but still hangs onto her optimism, relying on grit and belief to survive life's trials.

That idea is continued in the title song, a thoroughly melodic ode to everyday determination that doubles as the theme song from her new sitcom, Reba. The best of the three new songs, however, is Reba's version of Kenny Rogers' classic "Sweet Music Man," which bears the indelible stamp of its producer, Alison Krauss. These seeming opposites make a surprisingly potent team.

Still, I'm A Survivor is really about reveling in the successes of Reba's last decade. A lot of stars can fill a best-of collection, but how many have three? It's an elite club, and Reba joins it with hits to spare. That ain't surviving - it's thriving.

- Chris Neal

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