Reba McEntire focuses on recent material

11/06/2011 1:00 AM

11/06/2011 10:39 AM

The last time Reba McEntire performed in Wichita, she shared the stage with fellow country music legend George Strait.

On Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena, McEntire went solo and proved she could draw thousands without a supporting act. During her "All The Women I Am" tour stop, McEntire performed many of her biggest hits while showcasing her signature twang and familiar red hair.

During her 35 years in Nashville, McEntire has built an unmatched resume of chart-topping songs while branching out to brand herself in other areas of entertainment. She had a network sitcom to go along with appearances in movies, and items from her clothing line were being sold in the arena concourse on Saturday.

The tickets for Saturday's show billed her as a two-named star, but McEntire is most known to the fan base she has built over three-plus decades as "Reba."

After three rising country bands — Edens Edge, Steel Magnolia and the Band Perry — performed brief sets, the stage lights went down for McEntire and her shadowy figure emerged behind a curtain that reflected colorful spotlights.

At about 9:15, McEntire stepped through the curtain and began the tour's title track in front of a nine-person backing band.

The song, on paper, is about finding a man who can love each of her many personalities, but the still shots on the video board spoke to her reinvention personally and musically over the years.

McEntire has been performing country hits since 1976, but most of her set on Saturday was made up of songs from the second half of her career. "All The Women I Am" is named after her 2010 album, and three of the first four songs McEntire performed were released in 2009 or later. The other, "The Fear of Being Alone," came out in 1996.

After singing her 1992 No. 1 single, "Is There Life Out There," McEntire discussed the challenges of putting together a set list with so many songs from which to choose.

"The hardest part for me is figuring out which songs to sing," McEntire told the audience. "We tried to go back and find songs that we haven't done in a while, and hopefully we found some of your favorites."

There wasn't room for each of McEntire's 30-plus No. 1 hits, much less the many songs that reached No. 2 on the country charts, but she still managed to pack many of her most popular songs into the set.

Some were compacted into medleys, such as "Somebody," "And Still," and "Whoever's In New England," which all peaked at either No. 1 or No. 2. "New England" was McEntire's first foray Saturday into the 1980s, as it appeared on the 1986 album of the same name.

McEntire segued from "I Want A Cowboy" to "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" by talking about her father and the stories he tells about his own father. She said "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" could be "about cowboys or about daddies," and pictures of her father appeared on the video screen.

The tour could have easily been named "All The Women Of Country Music," since it featured upcoming frontwomen Hannah Blaylock (Edens Edge), Meghan Linsey (Steel Magnolia) and Kimberly Perry, who performed alongside McEntire for "Does He Love You."

Those women, all relatively early in their careers, can so far only hope to reach the iconic status of the 56-year old McEntire. Her second trip to Wichita's downtown arena reflected a legendary stage career and showcased one of the industry's most distinguishable voices.

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