CD Review: Martina McBride – The Essential Martina McBride (RCA/Legacy, 2012)
Martina McBride’s first two-disc collection (complementing earlier single-disc anthologies, Greatest Hits, Playlist and Hits and More) covers a lot of ground: nineteen years of recording, nine studio albums, twenty-nine Top 40 country hits (including five chart-toppers), nineteen crossover Top-100 pop hits, and numerous duets and tribute appearances. But even with such impressive statistics, there’s essential material missing, including ten charting sides, six of which were Top 40s and one (“There You Are” from 2000’s Emotion) was Top 10. Her climb to stardom is abbreviated by the omission of singles from her early albums, particularly three sides from Wild Angels (“Phones Are Ringin’ All Over Town,” “Swingin’ Doors” and “Cry on the Shoulder of the Road”) that propelled McBride and Nashville into a much wider circle of fans. That said, what’s here paints a fair picture of how easily her music straddled tradition, modernity and pop.
Like others of her mid-90s class (which also included Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill and Patty Loveless), McBride benefited from both a canny producer (Paul Worley, in her case) and a renaissance of quality Nashville songwriting. Early on she sang hits penned by Kostas (“Life #9”), Gretchen Peters (“My Baby Loves Me”), Matraca Berg (“Wild Angels” and “Still Holding On”), Paul Kennerley (“Heart Trouble”) and Pat Bunch (“Safe in the Arms of Love”), threading a theme of empowerment through hits and album tracks like “Independence Day,” “A Broken Wing” and “This One’s for the Girls.” As Nashville crossed into the mainstream, so did some of McBride’s material and chart success; in addition to solo hits she found resonance with Jim Brickman (“Valentine”), Bob Seger (“Chances Are”) and Alan Jackson (“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”). McBride’s stage singing (heard here in “Over the Rainbow,” drawn from 2003’s Martina) shows that her power, accuracy and emotion aren’t tied to the studio.
The set’s shortcomings could be pinned on the two-disc format and a desire to please both new fans and collectors. The former get an overview of McBride’s career and an invitation to delve into individual albums. The latter get duets collected from albums by Clint Black (“Nothin’ But the Taillights”), Jimmy Buffet (“License to Chill”) and Raul Malo (“You’re Only Lonely”), tracks scavenged from tributes, soundtracks and the Hallmark Valentine’s Day EP My Heart, and four songs introduced on 2001’s Greatest Hits. The result balances McBride’s chart highlights and catalog rarities, but a third disc (which Legacy has added in their 2.0 re-releases of Essential titles) could have picked up all the missing hits. This is a good starting point for those who’ve yet to enjoy Martina McBride’s brand of tradition-laced modern country, and a nice collection of non-LP tracks for those who are already fans.