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Reba on Resurrecting Her Classics With ‘Revived Remixed Revisited’ Boxed Set, Dolly, Dave Cobb and Recovering From Covid (EXCLUSIVE)

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Courtesy Caesars Palace

Reba McEntire is going the redux route with a triple album she’s announcing today, “Revived Remixed Revisited.” The boxed set, due for release Oct. 8, includes three discs’ worth of fresh spins on hits from her four-decade-plus catalog. “Revisited” has her joining producer Dave Cobb and a small band to strip down some of her classics to their barest elements; “Revived” finds her doing road-tested versions of the hits with her live band; and “Remixed” takes the original tracks and lets remixers like Lafemmebear put them through a contemporary wringer.

The project is the brainchild of Universal Music Group Nashville, whose subsidiary labels she’s been with since the late ’70s, save for a 10-year respite she took with Big Machine before re-signing to MCA Nashville in 2020. (A vinyl version in clear and black variants will be available exclusively via Talkshoplive, where she’ll make an appearance Aug. 23.)

Reba (who, befitting her status, generally goes by just the mononym) got on the phone with Variety this week to preview this ambitiously tri-fold career commemoration. In the process, she caught us up on how her recovery from a breakthrough case of COVID has gone, since she revealed having come down with it on TikTok last week. And speaking of that app and virality, Reba also explained how she happened to become an unlikely queen of that format, with her 2001 song “I’m a Survivor” having become a chart hit anew already, reaching No. 2 on TikTok’s viral chart with with over 97,000 uses in-app.

You have some good alliteration going in the title, with the three R’s.

Well, really four Rs. It’s Reba, “Revived Remixed Revisited.” So Reba and the three Rs.

Okay, missed the total accumulation there. How did the concept come about before, presumably, someone realized they had this title that pulled all the loose ends together?

I’ve been continuing to make new albums, and we really haven’t spent the time to slow down enough to revisit and work the catalog and remind people of what we’ve done in the past. I’m really a forward thinker, so that was a little out of my realm. I wish I had thought of it, but Cindy Mabe (UMG Nashville’s president) came up with that idea along with the folks over there, and I was thrilled that they wanted to spend that much time and attention on my catalog. Then when we got through with all the music that we did, with it turning out to be three different albums, we started talking about, what are we going to call this? “Reba Does It Again,” or “Reba Sings ‘Em Again”? And this title was very clever, I thought.

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Reba’s “Revived Remixed Revisited” album Courtesy MCA Nashville

Of the three parts, the concept for “Remixed” kind of speaks for itself. But how different are the “Revived” and “Revisited” albums from each other?

Quite a bit. I was asking that same question, to tell you the truth: How can we make it that different? But you can when you work with somebody like Dave Cobb, who is a genius. He’s very laid back. And that’s what comes through in the “Revisited” part of this music. Dave came in with a very small band of musicians — almost acoustic, but he had a steel guitar added and a fiddle. We’d go through these songs and he’d say, “Okay, that was good. Let’s slow it down. And then when she sings, let’s just all back up.” There’s not a lot of fills. And it was a totally different approach than almost anything I’ve ever done — except my Christmas album [2016’s “My Kind of Christmas”], which was just Catherine Marx, my piano player, and myself, so that was different, too. But slowing it down and taking a more relaxed approach at songs like “Consider Me Gone” and “How Blue” was really cool.

Now, with the “Revived” part, Doug Sisemore, my musical director and band leader, led that charge on those songs. They were songs that we have recorded before that we do in concert. When you do songs that you have recorded over the years, sometimes they change. Sometimes you add a little bit different parts; sometimes the harmony is different than what was on the original record. And for “Revived,” on “Can’t Even Get the Blues” [her first No. 1 hit, from 1982], Doug came up with a different intro, and he played it for me and didn’t tell me what song it was for, and I didn’t know where it was going. And when it finally kicked in, I said, “I love it.” And with “Take it Back” and “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” [top 10 hits from 1993-94], we put those two together, the way we perform ‘em in concert. “Revived” is going to give the listener what they’re used to, so they can sing along, but in some parts, it’s going to give them a little added bonus that I hope they smile at.

Turning to the “Remixed” album: “I’m a Survivor” is a TikTok favorite, which is probably not something you foresaw coming in 2021. What caused that to become such a favorite?

Somebody started it, just doing things at home and looking at the camera and singing; “I’m a survivor.” It just started out so simple and it’s really caught on. We were watching it on TikTok, and it started growing and getting bigger and getting more attention. And Justin McIntosh, who works on all our projects, said, “What would really be fun is if you did a TikTok singing ‘I’m a Survivor.’”

So I was out on the farm, and Rex Linn, my boyfriend [known for his roles on “CSI: Miami,” “Better Call Saul” and “Young Sheldon”], had the idea of getting the donkeys involved — Pancho and Lefty. He held the camera up for me to carry my two buckets, and when I set the buckets down and the handles clicked, it kind of scared the donkeys, so they turned their butts to me. And I looked at the camera, and I said, “I’m a survivor” — you know, like “what I have to put up with.” And we got over 18 million clicks of people watching this video. So that was hysterical and kind of gave “I’m a Survivor” a resurgence.

With “Remixed,” would you say the tracks are dance-oriented or just sort of contemporizing the sound?

I’d say both. Tracy Young did “Turn on the Radio” [a No. 1 hit from 2010]. She’s done mixes for Madonna, and I think she’s the first female remixer to win a Grammy. So I was thrilled to get her on this album. Lafemmebear is a young Black female remixer and she did a great job on “I’m a Survivor.” Dave Audé did “Fancy” [a top 10 hit from 1991 that has remained one of her signature songs]…

“Fancy’s” not a dance song. When I was doing “Fancy” in the late ‘60s, after I heard Bobbie Gentry when she released it, I fell in love with that song immediately. And I would do it at clubs and honky-tonks, and they’d say “We can’t dance to that!” And I said, “Well, sit down, shut up, let me sing it, ‘cause I want to sing it.”

“Consider Me Gone” ” [a No. 1 song from 2009] is coming out this weekend, as a representation of the “Revisited” songs you did with Dave Cobb.

“Consider Me Gone” is one that I think I like it better now than the first time I recorded it. Nothing wrong with the way we did it the first time, but then, it was more like “I’m going to get in your face, and by golly, you don’t do me this way. Just consider me gone.” This one is more of a thoughtful “You know what? You’re not giving me the respect and the attention I deserve. So if this is the way it’s going to be, you can just consider me gone.” It’s a soft-spoken way of saying “I’ve had enough,” instead of in your face. I mean, this was a four-week No. 1 record. You can’t argue with the success in that. But still, I think it needs a new breath, a new life, and we gave it to it.

You’ve got Dolly on here, on “Does He Love You?”

Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for everyone to hear that. Linda Davis did a great job on “Does He Love You” [a No. 1 single in 1993], but Dolly, there’s just something about that woman that just slays me. She added empathy and sympathy and camaraderie in the way she sang this song. It’s about two women loving or wanting the same man, and you feel for both women on it,  I’m so thankful she said yes when we asked her to be a part of this, because I’ve wanted to sing with Dolly forever. One of my favorite albums of all time is “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” [from 1969], one of her first albums out. And I could sit here and sing three or four of the songs off the album front to back; that’s how big of a fan I am of hers. And then we got to meet and know each other and hang out a little bit. There’s nobody in the world like Dolly, famous or unfamous.

There’s one more “re-” to cover here: recovery from COVID. You sound like you’re in high spirits, but last week on TikTok, you revealed you had been diagnosed with it. How are you feeling now?

I’m feeling great. I got it in July, around the 17th, and I had been vaccinated, and thank God, because I only was laying on the couch for two or three days, maybe four. I thought I had a sinus infection, because I wasn’t down for the count, in the hospital. I just laid around and watched all my favorite shows on Netflix and Prime Video and Hulu. But when I lost my sense of smell, I was kind of like, “Wait a minute, maybe I have COVID, the Delta variant.” So I tested and sure enough, I did. It was a shock to me, because my good friend Red Steagall, in December he got it, and he was in the hospital.

And I know with a lot of people, their family members have died from this. So that’s why I (sent) the heartfelt message on the TikTok event that we did last week to say, “Please get vaccinated. Stay safe. Wear masks, if not for you, for your best friend or your grandma or your niece and nephew.” Oh my gosh, I was just told that there was two children here in Nashville that have died, 6 and 8 years old. This thing’s not playing around. It’s very serious.

Did you get your sense of smell back?

You know what, last night I smelled something and I went, oh my gosh. What you take for granted all the time, with your sense of taste and smell. Thank God I didn’t lose my sense of taste, because I’m a foodie. Oh, I love to eat. And I didn’t lose it — maybe a touch, a little bit. Things are not as vibrant taste-wise. But boy, smell… We have a French bulldog, and he has little folds in his nose that catch that food. And if you don’t clean that out a lot, it gets to stinking. And so I couldn’t even smell that, and I said, “Oh, I know I’ve lost my sense of smell.” [Laughs.] Riddler’s my buddy, my pal. I love him.

You’ve got dates coming up later in the year. Those are still on as far as you know, right?

As far as I know. I’m ready to go. The band and crew, we’re all ready to go back out. But you know, we’ve got to stay smart. If anybody’s in danger… We’re pretty much all vaccinated because we want to go back to work and get back out there and entertain. Do you know it’s been a year ago March? March the 1st a year ago was the last time I got to be in front of a crowd and audience, except for doing the Grand Ole Opry. But as for a tour, we were down at the Strawberry Festival in Florida, and that’s the last time we all got to play together in front of a live audience. So we’re ready. Hopefully we’ll get to go to Durant, Oklahoma the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and then Vegas with Brooks & Dunn — we’re doing nine shows in 15 days at Caesars. I’m hoping that all works out, because we’re ready to go.

You’ve had a lot of greatest hits packages over the years. Is it important to you to still keep the catalog alive in an interesting way?

It is. When you go to a concert, what do you want to hear, the new single or the one that made ‘em famous? The one that made ‘em famous. You want something relatable, something that you can sing along with, something that you’re familiar with and you elbow your friend — you stand up and you start singing along with ‘em to the top of your lungs. And then the new single comes on, and out of respect, you sit there nicely and listen. And if by chance you’ve had a couple of beers or something, you get up and go to the bathroom during that time. But I think it’s very important to keep the songs of mine that my fans grew up on (alive). My fans are very loyal, very sweet to me, and I think they’re going to enjoy this three-album package where they can sit down and say, “Oh, I remember when Reba sang that in Omaha.”