Look... Don't get me wrong: I'm not a diehard Martina McBride fan or anything... Hardly!! But she was one of the biggest stars of the 1990s and certainly deserves a full consideration, even by the likes of a snooty hick music purist like myself... Whether McBride was a "country" star or a pop singer may be a matter of opinion... Like many Nashvillers, she started out with a more traditional sound, and then went whole-hog into a super-slick popped-up direction. I actually like some of her early stuff, but after the first couple of albums, it's hit-or-miss as far as my personal tastes go. As far as the mainstream pop-country audience goes, however, there's no question of Martina's superstar status -- she's racked up a bazillion Top Ten hits and was in the forefront of the de-twanging of modern country. Here's a quick look at her work...




Discography

Martina McBride "The Time Has Come" (RCA Nashville, 1992)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Ed Seay)

Her debut was kind of a mixed bag, though mostly it's pretty good... Like many top country stars, her first release is full of enthusiastic, rootsy, uptempo numbers, which are generally kind of fun, though she also tilts towards slicker, sappier material and at this point the ballads were her weak point... It's interesting to hear the guileless youth and inexperience in her voice... She really sounds much different here at 26 than she did by the decade's end. Personally, I far prefer these early, callow, girl-next-door vocals -- the pop diva act that was to come was a real drag -- but back in '92 she was honestly appealing, and I can actually listen to this record from start to finish and still feel like I was listening to a for-real country album the whole way through. Didn't last long, though. This album barely made a dent in the charts, but it was enough to get her started on her way to the top.


Martina McBride "The Way That I Am" (RCA Nashville, 1993)
(Produced by Paul Worley, Ed Seay & Martina McBride)

Another nice, upbeat early album. Her voice got better, the music got more solid, and her phrasing got more confident... There are a couple of yucky ballads, but mostly this is pretty good, at least in comparison to her later albums... There's not a lot of that high-concept pop fooferaw that came into play right after this...


Martina McBride "Wild Angels" (RCA Nashville, 1995)
(Produced by Paul Worley, Ed Seay & Martina McBride)

Super-glossy and way overproduced, but solid enough, in its own way. Martina covers a Pam Rose song, a couple by Matraca Berg, and even a mysteriously-drained-of-all-life version of Delbert McClinton's classic, "Two More Bottles Of Wine." The sloopy, high-tech studio mix makes her sound an awful lot like Mary Chapin Carpenter, which I do not consider to be much of a compliment, but I guess I can see the attraction for pop-oriented fans. "Swingin' Doors" is a fun tune... it wasn't a single, of course, but still a nice, dumb country song. And "Cry On The Side Of The Road" is a fine weeper -- maybe a little too reminiscent of Lucinda Williams' "Side Of The Road," but a strong song, nonetheless.


Martina McBride "Evolution" (RCA Nashville, 1997)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

It's kinda cute that she starts this disc off with an old archival performance of Martina (about nine years old, maybe?) singing the old Jimmie Dickens hit "I'm Little But I'm Loud" at a talent show or something... That's about the most down-home thing on this album, though to be fair, she does have a few semi-rootsy tracks on here. Some songs, though, are just torturously bad, like "Wrong Again" (a #1 hit) and "Still Holding On," a horrendously syrupy duet with Clint Black, and her hideous wailing on "Whatever You Say..." Martina did really well hitwise with this album, but that's really an indication of how bad the country crowd's taste got, not of the album's listenability. I mean, does anyone ever bother to point out that she sings flat and slightly off-key most of the time? Especially when she's trying to belt it out and put on a "big" voice...? You'd think someone might notice something like that, eventually. I did like the slow, sappy "I Won't Close My Eyes," but really, that was about it... then those super-tinkly ballads kick in and I go screaming for the remote to turn the damn thing off... And this is one of her better albums!


Martina McBride "White Christmas" (RCA Nashville, 1998)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

These lush pop-orchestral songs don't sound very "country" a-tall, but Martina sure sounds swell, at least for that sort of glossy, cornball holiday offering... One of the better albums of its kind... (For more country Christmas music see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)


Martina McBride "Emotion" (RCA Nashville, 1999)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

An amazingly safe, bland pop-country offering, with tambourine-heavy backbeats, simple little guitar riffs and McBride's flat, declarative vocals. It's well-sculpted, for what it is, but there's no spark or ingenuity or spontaneity here... Martina gets all socially-conscious on "Love's The Only House," an upbeat, perky tune that decries America's culture of alienation and violence and which, naturally, sounds completely forced and preachy... Still, it's better than the endless inspirational and romantic ballads, on which she squalls her little heart out. Did she really become a superstar? Jeez.


Martina McBride "White Christmas" (RCA Nashville, 1999)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

It worked so well the year before, she just had to try it again!


Martina McBride "Martina" (RCA Nashville, 2003)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

I liked the single okay -- a glossy but propulsive gal-power anthem called "This One's For The Girls" -- but with the exception of a tune or two, the rest of this album is really just a bit much. Her soul-styled warbling is a real turnoff, particularly on songs like "How Far" and "When You Love Me," and almost every song on here is horribly overwritten, and horribly over-obvious. All these songs about Everywoman and Everywoman's interior monologues and self-helpy struggle for self-affirmation. Doesn't anyone in Nashville believe in writing catchy little songs you can sing along to anymore? (Her live version of "Over The Rainbow," tacked in on the end, does not help matters much. She's got a voice that can hit the back of the theater, but McBride is no Judy Garland.)


Martina McBride "Timeless" (RCA Nashville, 2005)


Martina McBride "Wake Up Laughing" (RCA Nashville, 2007)


Martina McBride "Live In Concert" (RCA Nashville, 2008)


Martina McBride "Shine" (RCA Nashville, 2009)


Martina McBride "Eleven" (RCA Nashville, 2011)


Martina McBride "Everlasting" (Sharon's Rose, 2014)
(Produced by Don Was)

Former superstar Martina McBride tackles a bunch of soul oldies, stuff from the Motown/Atlantic/Muscle Shoals continuum, tunes like "Come See About Me," "Suspicious Minds," "Bring It On Home To Me," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and the like. It's not as bad as you'd think -- she's reverential and surprisingly restrained, all things considered. A little sluggish, but that's better than McBride going all overboard with the crazy pop production the way her own Nashville recordings got in the 1990s. It's not my cup of tea (I'll stick with the originals) but there are some intriguing choices, such as her duet with Kelly Clarkson -- a cover of Sugarpie DeSanto's "In The Basement" -- and a even little bit of Chicago blues, with a perky version of "My Babe." Fans should be delighted with this "back to the basics" outing.




Best-Ofs

Martina McBride "Greatest Hits" (RCA Nashville, 2001)
(Produced by Paul Worley & Martina McBride)

If you want to check McBride out at her best, this disc is the way to go... It has some of her perky, twangy early hits, like "My Baby Loves Me" and "Life #9," then charts her steady course into shlocky pop crossovers and super-duper power ballad Hell. But they pick their way through her catalog carefully, and really do put her work in the best light... Also includes new stuff, like the song "Blessed," and the domestic abuse issue-song, "Concrete Angel," which were unique to this compilation. Martina still doesn't have a very good voice, but hey, if you have a "greatest hits" package, who cares? Late '90s Nashville at its glossiest and most mainstream.


Martina McBride "Playlist" (RLG-Legacy, 2008)


Martina McBride "Hits And More" (Sony-RCA Nashville, 2012)
A new best-of set that updates her 2001 Greatest Hits collection and adds three new songs to the mix... Most of Martina's major singles and a few hopeful new hits to boot!


Martina McBride "The Essential Martina McBride" (RCA Nashville, 2012)




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