Martina McBride Rides Her Soul Train

Martina McBride Rides Her Soul Train

By Bob Doerschuk

© 2014 CMA Close Up®
News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Country Music headliner Martina McBride’s catalog
overflows with powerfully communicative performances. The playful “I Love You,”
the heartbroken ballad “Wrong Again,” and the empowering anthems “Independence
Day,” “This One’s for the Girls” and “Wrong Baby Wrong” unfold along
clear lines of melody, which the five-time CMA Award winner animated with her
own distinctive phrasing and interpretive sense.

In contrast, much of her new album, Everlasting,
pays homage to R&B and showcases vocal improvisation. A perfect example would
be “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which in essence was a sketch over which
Otis Redding unleashed his volcanic and highly extemporized performance. Speaking
generally, the emphasis in soul music is often on the performance, while to paraphrase
a familiar line in Music City, Country recordings start with and often stay grounded on the song.

“There are some differences
in phrasing,” McBride noted. “When I was first thinking about making this
record and finding songs that would fit my voice, I was a little bit overwhelmed.
Tackling some of these songs was a bit intimidating. But then Don (Was, producer)
helped me a lot. He said, ‘Just be you. Sing it how you would sing it.’ That
was a liberating moment for me. I was like, ‘Oh! That makes sense!’”

Their collaboration began
with a meeting in Los Angeles. “We just had a musical conversation,” McBride
recalled. “We listened to music for hours in his office to figure out what I
was drawn to. I was thinking about making a mellow, singer/ songwriter record
in a soul vein, something with horns, like a Ray Charles record. At some point
it just clicked and we decided to lean in that direction.”

Everlasting was a milestone
for Was as well. For all he had accomplished in the industry, this was the first
album he had ever produced in Nashville. The musicians exemplified the best of
the city’s approach to tracking, working quickly and efficiently, with no problems
crossing the Country Music divide.

“We were all in the same room, Don and us, except for Martina
in the vocal room,” said her longtime music director and keyboard player Jim
Medlin. “He sat there with us and listened, his eyes shut the whole time, smiling
like a kid in a candy shop. We all had little talk-back mics; when we’d do a
pass, he didn’t give a lot of direction but just let everything unfold with
a couple of words here and there. It was a real laid-back endeavor.”

“I think it was really
thrilling for the musicians because they were playing for an audience of Don Was,”
McBride added. “With so few instruments, everybody played so tastefully. Nobody
got in anyone’s way. It was like they’d been playing together for 20 years.”

One concern that didn’t
come up in the studio was whether Country fans would have any trouble connecting
with Everlasting. McBride still doesn’t worry about it; she’s played
some of these tracks on shows with George Strait this year, trusting that the
music would speak for itself.

“To some Country fans, it might sound like I’ve taken some
kind of a left turn,” she admitted. “But this is so similar to Country Music!
And anything I do is probably going to have a Country sensibility because that’s
what I’ve sung for so long. The common thread is that it’s me. I hope people
listen and go, ‘Oh, that’s just Martina, doing what she always does.’”

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