This is McEntire's first studio album in four years, during which time she has been honing her acting chops, on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun and on her TV sitcom Reba. Her singing has always been on the dramatic side (sort of like a Dust Bowl Celine Dion), so it's no big surprise that she has found success as an actress. But acting has not lent any subtlety to her vocals or her material. Room to Breathe offers up one broadly drawn song after another, from "Moving Oleta," a maudlin tune about an aging man moving his Alzheimer's-afflicted wife into a nursing home (her condition is "a shadow much darker than the valley of death"), to the lachrymose "Once You've Learned to Be Lonely."
Only "My Sister," a lively tune about the unique relationship between sisters, is truly affecting. (McEntire dedicates the song to her own sisters Alice and Susie.) Elsewhere, McEntire approaches gospel, a genre where subtlety has never been at a premium, on "I'm Gonna Take That Mountain." Vince Gill's delicate vocal enhances the ballad "It Just Has to Be This Way," while Alison Krauss (on fiddle and harmony vocals) and lap-steel stalwart Dan Dugmore also provide stellar support. For her part, McEntire is still a strong vocalist, with that charming little catch in her voice. Four years, though, should have been enough time for her to come up with more interesting material than this.