NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. -- They don't call Reba McEntire "The Queen of Country" for nothin'.
In a career spanning more than three decades, Reba has tapped into the roots of the music, helped define the line it's walked on its way to mainstream acceptance, and sustained her relevance as its new stars top the pop charts. With 33 No. 1 hits across 33 albums, she certainly has no shortage of material to choose from, and the set list ran the widened gamut of the genre that her career has crossed. The opening trio of "We're So Good Together," "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter" and "The Fear of Being Alone" displayed how country has crossed into pop -- keep the hot licks from guitar, fiddle, and steel, but flatten the rhythm, and generalize the lyrics just enough so anyone can relate.
In Reba's case, that usually means any woman, as in the dance hall romp "I'll Have What She's Having," the first song featured from her latest album, Keep On Loving You (her first for Valory/Big Machine). The ballad "And Still" followed, with the rural Oklahoma native summoning every ounce of her emotive drawl, as rich and arresting as any country music will ever know.
Rock riffage reigned supreme on the deeply dark "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," while another new tune, "Pink Guitar," seemed destined to be sung to suburban bedroom mirrors. After the obligatory medley, an audience member presented Reba with flowers, said he'd named his daughter after her, and asked if she could sign his bicep so he could have it tattooed. She obliged with grace and demure, and when another loon rose to show a tattoo on her chest, she called them sweet and crazy in the same breath in a moment truly befitting her status as royalty.
After the schmaltzy story song "Somebody," "Nothing to Lose" offered a slick workout for her crack nine-piece band of guitarists Jeff King and Jim Kimball, pianist Catherine Marx, fiddle/mandolin/guitarist Jimmy Mattingly, pedal steel/dobro player Bruce Bowden, keyboardist/guitarist/bandleader Doug Sisemore, vocalist Joanna Jene, bassist Spady Brannan and drummer Tommy Harden.
New single "Strange" showcased country's new sound -- a rockin' beat under sassy sing-speak and big bends that could easily pass for a Carrie Underwood song, while a CMT Crossroads-inspired cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" was so convincing it earned a standing ovation.
WHO: Reba McEntire
WHEN: Thursday and tonight
WHERE: Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort
TICKETS: $90 and up
INFO: (888) 836-8118, www.fallsviewcasinoresort.com