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Although she’s widely acknowledged as the premier female vocalist in country music today, Martina McBride is not content to rest on her impressive laurels, which include a shelf full of industry awards. The petite powerhouse unveils a deeper, stronger, more confident sound on her eighth studio album, Martina, proving that she may be in her prime, but definitely not at her peak. Somehow, she’s managed to improve upon near-perfection by focusing on what she does best: delivering emotional performances of mature country songs with poignant, timeless themes. She continues to build on her solid foundation of creating songs that instantly become today’s hits and tomorrow’s standards.
"I really just tried to make a record full of great songs, which is the goal I always have," McBride says. "From a production standpoint, I really wanted it to be warm and to sound more like an old vinyl record as opposed to really clean, pristine and digital."
The CD was recorded in the Nashville studio she and her husband recently purchased, so the sessions took on a more homey, comfortable feel. She was able to spend hours singing without any time constraints and even took breaks to cook dinner for her family in the studio’s kitchen. Whether it’s "This One’s For the Girls," "So Magical" or "Wearing White," this CD is "more Martina music," literally and figuratively. It’s both a continuation of her impressive musical journey and a new stage of growth
"The thing is, I just love where I am right now in my career," she says. "I love country music. I don’t ever feel restricted by the genre. I’ve been able to have a solid career that we’ve built one step at a time and a family. I know that I’m in a good place."
Of course it’s hard to see how she could get more successful. She is to this new decade what Reba McEntire was to the '90s--the standard by which all others are judged. "I definitely feel a difference about my place in the industry," she says. "I feel like I have some longevity now. We’ve established a place. When I’m compared to Reba, it’s such a compliment but I feel I have so far to go. Reba’s career is such an example in longevity and consistency--making music that is accepted and successful, and having a track record. I do look to Reba as a role-model of someone who has longevity, handled her career with class, and gained the respect of her fans, the industry, and her peers. We all want to be Reba when we grow up!"
Martina McBride has the great fortune of being the darling of every facet of the music industry, as evidenced by her numerous CMA and ACM Female Vocalist Awards. Songs such as "Independence Day," "Concrete Angel," "Love’s The Only House," and "A Broken Wing" have become not only memorable musical statements, but resounding social commentaries as well. With her preternaturally large soprano voice, McBride speaks for those who can’t speak for themselves and forces us to recognize situations that we’d prefer to ignore. Whether it’s alcoholism, domestic violence or child abuse, this courageous risk-taker has never backed down from exploring our nation’s darkest sides.
Perpetually a fan favorite, she’s sold nearly 10 million albums, garnered six No. 1 hits and received Favorite Female Artist awards from Country Weekly, Radio & Records and Billboard. Recently, "Independence Day" was voted No. 8 on CMT’s fan- voted list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music. "It’s every artist’s dream to have songs that last, songs that are timeless and classic," she says. "The fact that 'Independence Day' made such an impression with people is a good feeling. I feel like songs like 'Independence Day' and 'Concrete Angel' were divinely sent to me. I’m just the instrument for the song to do whatever it’s supposed to do--heal, inspire or encourage. It’s not all about me, it’s about the song. I’m just the lucky girl who gets to sing these songs."
McBride’s 11-year recording career is a textbook study in controlled stardom. While some artists find themselves on a runaway train, McBride has always remained confidently in the driver’s seat of her career. "I’m definitely a person who likes to control my own destiny," she says. "That’s hard to do in this business because there are many creative people with great ideas and years of experience giving you advice but what is right for one artist isn’t always best for another. Knowing what’s best for you and being willing to stand up and assert that is really a strong trait in this business - especially if you don’t want to follow the 'rules.' It’s difficult at times, but you have to stick to your guns and still know when to be flexible. That’s something I’ve had to learn - which battles to fight."
Having two daughters also helps keep her grounded. Her family comes first, so she tours when her children are out of school for the summer. During the school year, McBride can be spotted driving the girls to school in her beloved 1992 Honda. "I’m just Mom, and at the end of the day I want them to know that being their mom is the most important thing to me," she says. "I can’t be the big star in the family. We have a family, and we are all equal."
It’s this universal equality that she addresses in the project’s first single, "This One’s For the Girls." The song proclaims, "Yeah we’re all the same inside/from one to ninety-nine." "That’s such an important lyric to me, says McBride. "Every night that I sing it live, I want people to feel that. I’m really no different. I just have a great job, and I get to wear cool clothes, and I was given a gift. That’s all it is, a gift, and we all have gifts. When it comes down to it, we are all just trying to do our thing, trying to make the world a better place in our way."
She developed this strong sense of self while growing up on a Sharon, Kansas farm and graduating from a high school with only nine others in her senior class. "A big part of who I am is just the way I was raised," she says. "Nobody is better than anyone else, and if you really work hard, you might get lucky and get what you want."
Hard work came early for McBride, who toured Kansas and Oklahoma with her parent’s band, The Schiffters. "Well, ‘touring’ is putting it pretty fancy," she laughs. "We hooked up the trailer to the back of the car, and we drove to the gig, unloaded and set up all the equipment, played four hours, tore it all down, loaded it up and drove home. It was just what we did from the time we were little kids, but even then I knew it was something special--not something every family got to do together."
She and her husband John moved to Nashville in 1990. John even moved his successful local sound company along with them. By the following year, both John and Martina took jobs touring with Garth Brooks. John served as Production Manager and provided the concert sound system through his company, while Martina sold T-shirts. All the while, when back in Nashville from the road, the two worked on Martina’s demo tape to take to record labels, hoping to get a recording contract.
Her discovery is now the stuff of legend: She took a few liberties with the truth when she wrote "requested material" on a purple envelope containing her demo and sent it to RCA Records. Requested or not, it was just the voice RCA was looking for and they offered her a deal. In 1992, she released her debut CD, The Time Has Come. It wasn’t until the single "My Baby Loves Me" from her second album, The Way That I Am, that Martina captured radio’s hearts and garnered a Top Five hit.
In 1994, her life changed forever with the release of the Grammy Award-winning song "Independence Day," a soaring anthem that features a brutally honest portrayal of domestic violence. Not only did this forever alter her career trajectory, it profoundly changed her personally as well. For nearly a decade, she’s been a national spokeswoman for the victims of domestic violence, working with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence Intervention Services, the YWCA, ChildHelp USA, and the Safe Haven Family Shelter.
Her work with these causes has earned her recognition from domestic violence programs and widespread media. Recently she was the recipient of Redbook Magazine’s "Mothers and Shakers" award for her work bringing national attention to the domestic violence problem. She was recognized alongside other recipients such as Katie Couric, Cynthia Nixon, Stockard Channing and others. She was also given the Grammy organization’s highest honor, The Heroes Award, for her ongoing charitable work. Famed poet Maya Angelou presented Martina her award saying, "Here, take my hand; I celebrate you."
"I feel like it's important to use this gift God gave me, my life and my career to do something to make the world a better place," explains Martina. "It’s an easy thing for me to do. The real heroes are the ones working at the shelters every day and the women who find the courage to better their lives for themselves and their children. The woman working at the shelter doesn’t have the opportunity to get in front of a million people and raise awareness. I’m the one that can do that for her."
Although McBride is now recognized as the voice of the common woman, she says she never set out to be the public defender of equal rights. "I’m not thinking, ‘I need to have all these songs that speak to women'’", she says. "I’m just inevitably drawn to the ones that speak about women’s feelings, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. I am a woman, so I think that would be the natural thing. You don’t hear a man described as ‘singing songs that speak to men.’ It’s just what we do naturally. I don’t think, ‘I’ve got to find the next woman’s anthem,’ or ‘I have to be the voice for all women.’ But I am happy that women can relate to my songs, and hopefully men can too."
Not all of her songs are deep somber tomes. Hits such as "I Love You," "Safe in the Arms of Love," "Wild Angels" and "Happy Girl" reveal her frolicking, fun side. She continues this tradition on Martina with upbeat songs like "So Magical" and "This One’s for the Girls." The album also has its share of tender love songs, including "City of Love," "When You Love Me," and "Learning To Fall." "There has to be a sense of vulnerability in a great love song," explains McBride. "It has to say, ‘You are IT' for me. You make me feel this way, and nobody else does.’ You want to make someone else feel what you’re feeling. I feel like if I can s ing this to the person I love, then others can do that as well."
While she admits that the awards and industry recognition have been wonderful, it’s not what motivates her to keep improving her music. "What drives me now is the desire to be able to keep doing this," she says. "I love making records and performing, and success means I will continue to have the privilege to do that. I know it’s not going to last forever, but I’d like to keep having success as long as I can so that I can still be a part of this industry."
McBride remains a bit uncomfortable addressing the status of her career or her influence on country music. She’d rather just focus on her music and family. "What I would like my legacy to be is that of a person who took good care of her family and sang some songs that made a difference in some way," she says. "I hope I’ll be remembered as somebody who was always down to earth and who handled her career and other people with honesty, integrity and class."
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