Martina McBride released her Greatest Hits CD on Sept. 18, days after the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. On the cover, fortuitously, she sports a tank top with the American flag stitched on the chest.
In the wake of the attacks, McBride found herself singing the chorus to “Independence Day” — imploring her audiences to “Let freedom ring” -– almost as often as she was singing her sassy, uptempo new single, “When God-Fearin’ Women Get the Blues.”
A little over a month later, “God-Fearin’ Women” had climbed to No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, where it peaked and started back down.
Six months on, McBride’s latest single lines up more closely with the mood of the country. “Blessed” –- one of four new songs on the Hits album –- has been at No. 1 on the Billboard chart for two weeks, the first single to repeat in the top spot in a month.
Written by Hillary Lindsey, Troy Verges and Brett James, and featuring backing vocals by Carolyn Dawn Johnson, the song is placed at the very end of the 18-song Greatest Hits collection. As a closing statement it seems to celebrate McBride’s happy family, her fulfilling marriage and her successful career, all at once –- even as a wounded country counts its own blessings.
“This song came in,” she recalls in an interview, “and I went, ‘Oh, my goodness. That’s exactly how I feel.’ I say it all the time, and I’ve said it many, many times. I am blessed. I really don’t feel like ‘lucky’ is appropriate. I don’t think we’re lucky, I think we’re blessed. I certainly have been in every aspect of my life.”
The guitars at the beginning of the song and the throbbing bass give “Blessed” the character of an anthem. The infectious groove makes it easy to sing along — and hard not to feel blessed one’s self.
Looking back over her body of work so far, as she assembled the hits collection, McBride says she realized two things: that she had chosen her songs well, and that each album has improved sonically over the previous release. (The Hits collection includes nothing from her first album, 1992’s The Time Has Come.)
“There’s not anything that I go, ‘I don’t ever want to hear that again. Why did I record that song? What was I thinking?’” she says. “Everything really stands up to this day, which makes me feel good.”
In her liner notes, McBride does reveal one career regret. “This is a song I always wanted to be a single,” she says of “Strangers,” a track from her third album, 1995’s Wild Angels. “I think if we had released this after ‘Independence Day’ instead of ‘Heart Trouble,’ the next few years would have been quite different. However, we didn’t, and the next few years were a series of hits and misses with country radio.”
She had mixed feelings about including “Strangers” on her Hits album, McBride admits, since it wasn’t really a hit. “Maybe it was just a bit of a need for me to close the door on that experience and move on,” she says, “of always feeling like it was an opportunity that was missed or a direction I wanted to go in that I wasn’t allowed to go in as an artist.”
The Kansas-born singer did exercise control early on in another area of her career. Since her second album, The Way That I Am, she has shared production duties with Paul Worley. On her first, she got involved in mixing, in overdubbing — in every aspect of the project — though she received no encouragement to do so.
“With [The Way That I Am], I think everybody knew that I was going to be a really plugged-in artist, and I love it,” McBride says. “I’ve always listened to music, even as a kid — I played in my dad’s band. … We’d take a song and we’d dissect it down … to find out who was playing what and what it sounded like, what the sounds were, in a very production-oriented way.”
Evolution, her 1997 release, marked a career turning point. McBride tried a different approach to making the album, her fourth. “I took seven months off the road,” she explains. “I wasn’t trying to go out and perform and then come back and make a record in between. … For seven months we went in every day and we worked on the record and we tried things. We weren’t afraid of running out of time — and we probably paid a little less attention to the budget than we should have — but it was our experimenting time. If something didn’t work, we replaced it with something that did.”
The approach paid off. Evolution yielded the hits “Valentine,” “A Broken Wing,” “Happy Girl,” “Wrong Again” and “Whatever You Say” and went on to sell 3 million copies – her top selling album to date. In 1999, the Country Music Association named McBride female vocalist of the year.
With the release of her Greatest Hits collection, McBride’s profile has risen again. She is nominated for top female vocalist in the upcoming Academy of Country Music Awards (May 22), and she is featured in a People magazine cover story (April 1 issue) about professionals who put family before career. She also is the subject of stories in recent issues of Country Weekly and Ladies Home Journal, and she’ll be featured with her daughters – Delaney, 7, and Emma, 4 – in a beauty story on skin care in the June issue of Rosie: The Magazine.
For the eighth year, the charity-minded McBride will host “The Celebrity Auction With Martina McBride” June 16 in downtown Nashville. The event raises money for YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
Last year she was part of the mid-summer Girls Night Out tour, performing on a bill that included Reba McEntire , Sara Evans , Jamie O’Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. In 2002 most of her concert dates are confined to weekends, to accommodate her daughters’ needs. “I get to hear my children laughing/Down the hall through the bedroom door,” she sings in “Blessed.”
“I do have this commitment with Delaney and school,” McBride says. “I take it seriously. I can’t just go gallivanting across the country for weeks at a time and not be there for her every day. … You just find those opportunities to be able to go out and take this music and this show to the fans and figure out a way to balance it all.”