A country girl born and raised in the Heartland of America who grew up singing country songs is now the mother of three daughters. But the matriarch in perpetual motion otherwise known as Martina McBride is anything but a stay-at-home mom.
McBride is everywhere this month en route to a 2011 career reboot, with appearances on Late Show With David Letterman (October 13) and Good Morning America (October 14), before her Invitation Only special airs October 17 on CMT.
Raising her profile is the result of a number of premeditated moves after spending 18 years with RCA Nashville. With new management (headed by Clint Higham of Morris Artists Management) and a new record label (Republic Nashville), McBride is releasing a game-changing album Tuesday (October 11), fittingly titled Eleven. With 11 songs (a deluxe version offers four bonus tracks), the title actually refers to her 11th studio album in a career dating to 1992.
Still blessed with a powerful voice, McBride takes pride in her rebirth and this latest baby, an assortment of tasteful and playful tunes that bring out the showgirl in the shy but sure-fire soprano.
Throughout a productive career in which her pop proclivities helped change the face of country music, along with Faith Hill, Shania Twain and Sara Evans, McBride has always stood behind other songwriters, letting their words speak for her. But with Eleven, McBride takes charge, co-writing six of the tracks while sharing producing duties with Byron Gallimore, the man behind Hill's Breathe. Her husband of 23 years, studio engineer John McBride, recorded and mixed the album.
"Being able to write and create something instead of just interpreting something, it's a subtle difference, but there is a difference," McBride said over the phone after a recent tour stop. "I feel like I'm just opening up more as an artist and as a person and sharing more of myself and my personality. I feel different; I don't know if people will be able to hear a difference or not."
They should. Country fans will still recognize those unmistakably pure pipes, but this album takes McBride more than a few crossover moves from the traditional two-step. Adventurous enough to explore and experiment, McBride adds to her oeuvre by challenging herself with sexy blues ("You Can Get Your Lovin' Right Here"), ballsy brass-knucklers ("Broken Umbrella") and feel-good anthems (the get-on-your-feet opener "One Night").
A dynamic group of studio musicians, including keyboardist Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones) and versatile guitarists Dan Dugmore, Tom Bukovac and Ilya Toshinsky (formerly of Bering Strait), are largely responsible.
Providing vocal assists are Train's Pat Monahan (whose "Marry Me" they performed together on CMT's Crossroads), Little Big Town's Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet and longtime collaborator Carolyn Dawn Johnson. A horn section, reminiscent of Blood, Sweat and Tears, is a retro addition to a McBride record, and the classy Nashville String Machine completes the journey into virtually uncharted territory.
Leaving her girls behind at home to make an album outside Nashville for the first time was tough, but it enabled McBride (left) to fully concentrate on recording at Southern Tracks in Atlanta. While not totally forgetting about "taking the kids to school and doing all the things that you do when you're a mom," McBride found that "being able to really get up every day and just go to the studio and focus on making music was a luxury."
"It's not that anything I did before wasn't me or I don't love it, but this record is sort of like a ... like it showed more of a personal side of me, I think," she added. "And then on top of that, the album is really simple, production-wise, and ... I always wanted to make a record that sounded very organic and real and that's what I did."
As a teenager who listened to Ozzy Osbourne and played alto sax in a marching band at Sharon High School in rural Kansas, McBride began writing songs but never really considered going her own way with words once she went to Nashville.
That changed a few years ago when she toured with the Warren Brothers, who encouraged her to write with them. Initially, McBride was reluctant.
"I kept saying, 'I don't really need to write.' I don't know if I was just afraid of not being any good or not being good enough or if I was just lazy," she revealed. "I don't know (laughs), honestly. So I just kept saying, 'I don't really care to go down that road.' "
According to McBride, Brad and Brett Warren brought her a verse and idea for "Anyway" while she was working on her previous record, 2009's Shine, and literally sat her down in her dressing room to start the writing process.
"At the time, it was so thrilling and so exciting that I thought, 'I don't know why I have been fighting this and not doing this.' Really, I think it's a confidence thing, too," McBride said. "You're sitting in a room with a writer or two ... you start talking and think, 'Oh, I do have something to say, I can contribute to this. Oh, I'm writing a song, wow, cool.' "
That collaboration ultimately led them to writing "Teenage Daughters," which stays closest to her country connection and represents the best and brightest of McBride's latest work. It's also an honest -- and sometimes humorous -- account of what she experiences in everyday life as a woman facing the joys and challenges of raising three girls -- Delaney (16), Emma (13) and Ava (6).
Personal experience is also found on the tender closing track, a ballad called "Long Distance Lullaby," which McBride said she wrote while away from home working on the album. "It's just a sweet song about missing your kids or really missing anyone."
Still bashful despite all her success, gold records and music awards, McBride is pushing herself to let everyone know how proud she is of this current project. And to support a cause close to her heart.
She got on track Monday in Los Angeles, beginning a four-day cross-country train trip that stops in 11 cities and ends this week in New York. To kick off October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when the country is encouraged to think pink, McBride sang the national anthem at an NFL game in Baltimore. The hometown Ravens, like every team in the league, are participating in an annual screening campaign called "A Crucial Catch," with players, coaches and referees wearing pink game apparel.
McBride continues to color her world, too, tirelessly devoting her time and efforts to raise awareness for the cause. On Good Morning America, she will perform another touching song from Eleven, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" (the video features a number of cancer survivors and supporters), then light the Empire State Building in pink that evening. (The song is also featured on McBride's Invitation Only appearance, right.)
Launching this latest album is much different than it was even 10 years ago, but McBride accepts social media as a useful tool. "In some ways, I think we're more connected, the relationship with our fans is more open and connected than ever," she said. "I think people are relying more and more on it. My parents (who still live in Kansas) have the Internet. I never thought that would happen. ... Yeah, my dad's on Facebook and Twitter and I'm like, 'Oh my goodness.' "
If the music profession seems light years from the glory days of the '90s, which McBride described as an "open pocketbook flamboyant kind of thing," she still remains grateful. Being able to perform "songs that really resonate with people" has allowed her to endure during a career she modestly calls "slow and steady."
Celebrating almost 20 years in the business, McBride certainly is counting her blessings. With Eleven, expect those numbers to keep adding up.
• Martina McBride publicity photo courtesy of Republic Nashville.
• Photo of Martina McBride from CMT's Invitation Only by Rick Diamond/WireImage.
See Martina McBride's performance of "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" from Invitation Only on CMT: