REBA. Reba McEntire (vocals) "Sunday Kind of Love," "Respect," "Silly Me," seven others. MCA MCA-42134 $7.98.

For female country singers being a singer often means being a "vocal actress." Singing about the blues isn't enough, the singer has to become the person feeling the pain.Reba McEntire may be the best that's ever been at it. Listen to her hit single "Somebody Should Leave." When she sings the title line, we hear a subtle melancholy wail, but as soon as she starts talking about "those babies down the hall" she's an earth mother standing between hell and her kids.

In her latest album McEntire pushes those interpretive skills a step farther.

Like Linda Ronstadt, McEntire has such talent, country music alone can't hold her. She wants it all, from torch songs to Tin Pan Alley.

For some time people in the industry have been buzzing about her new direction with this album. And when she released "Sunday Kind of Love" as her latest single, it was obvious Reba McEntire plans to keep pressing the frontiers. Now and in the future.

"Reba" features everything from an old Otis Redding chestnut ("Respect") to tunes featuring instruments seldom used by hard country artists: the bazouki, for instance, and a DX-7 synthesizer, just to name two.

But then McEntire's been Female Vocalist of the Year enough years in a row now that she should be allowed to experiment. And this effort feels solid, a natural step.

Still, it's taken her a long, winding road to get here.

She began as a calico cowgirl with the long dresses, boots and hair to her waist. At first, her biggest claim to fame was being the wife of rodeo cowboy Charlie Battle. About the time she recorded "Little Rock" her image changed. We got a "Bette McEntire," complete with painted-on pants, spiky hair and make-up to beat the band.

Now she seems to be settling into place between the two. There's a softer look to her now, and a softer feel to her music.

Perhaps she's finally found herself.

And "Reba," her latest album, gives us country music's best song stylist at her best.