Album Reviews: Martina McBride and “Live at Texas Stadium”

Matt Clark | April 6th, 2007

I saved reviews of the week’s two best releases for last.

Martina McBride - Waking Up Laughing Martina McBride, Waking Up Laughing
I had low expectations for this project after hearing “Anyway,” the over-produced and over-sung lead single, but Martina’s efforts as a producer have now generated two consecutive worthwhile albums. Indeed, on much of the album, Martina sounds like the artist of old who had an undeniably athletic voice but let the lyrics speak for themselves instead of making recordings that amounted to little more than vocal calisthenics. The change is refreshing, and while the project is not a bastion of lyrical complexity, it contains a pleasant selection of Martina’s typical inspirationals performed with an elegance that has been missing from her recent endeavors.

“Everybody Does” and “Cry Cry (Til The Sun Shines)” are typical Martina “if you fall, get back up again” anthems, but other tracks on the album have more attitude. “If I Had Your Name” never develops beyond the hook (“If I had your name, I’d be changing it by now”) but makes for an enjoyable, spunky album opener. “Tryin’ to Find a Reason” is the stark self-examination of a woman mired in a troubled relationship. “House of a Thousand Dreams” is the moving narrative of a family that perseveres despite economic hardship, told in succession from the perspectives of the hard-working father, his faithful wife and their gracious son.

Martina possesses puzzling ability to make profoundly dark subjects seem positive and radio-friendly, but “Beautiful Again,” with instrumentation that seems much too bright for a song about sexual abuse, may be the oddest example yet. The final track and highlight of the album “Love Land,” is built around the familiar story of a young and foolish couple that marries too early but makes it anyway. However, the writing and delivery are sufficiently strong to make this re-tread song an enjoyable listen that could prove a radio hit.

4 Stars

Live at Texas Stadium George Strait, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett, Live At Texas Stadium
George Strait must have enough trouble making the set list for his solo shows, but how do you possibly include all the hits when three legends like George Strait, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett collide? At this 2004 concert, the superstars decided there was no use in even trying. The result is a refreshing live album that includes the intersections among the three legends’ careers (“Murder on Music Row,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) while proving that artists with a dizzying number of chart-toppers among them can still make a Texas stadium crowd go crazy with classic covers and deep catalog offerings.

The album opens with Strait’s “Honk if You Honky Tonk,” a song that barely cracked the top-50 but was George’s current single at the time of the recording. Jackson joins Strait for “Murder on Music Row,” and Strait and Jackson are such pure vocalists and the band is so tight that it practically sounds like a studio recording.

Things loosen up when Buffett completes the trio. “Margaritaville” is the album’s only disappointment, as Buffett engages in goofy lyrical transpositions and his backup vocalists add a ridiculous and annoying chant of “salt, salt.”

However, the album is a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. George Strait sounds liberated as he navigates a unique playlist without such standards as “Amarillo by Morning.” Jackson, a notoriously stoic performer, loosens up as he closes the show with a locally-flavored rendition of “Where I Come From.”

The concert’s best cuts are the unexpected ones. Buffett and Jackson collaborate on a wholesome cover of Guy Clark’s “Boats to Build.” Jackson and Strait’s “Designated Drinker” proves that some of their best music barely charted. A bluegrass-tinged “Seven Bridges Road” vies with the trio’s rendition of “Hey Good Lookin'” for the honor of the show’s highlight.

4.5 Stars

1 Ping

  1. [...] McBride’s Waking Up Laughing (reviewed by Matt here) marks the introduction of McBride as a songwriter, although she admits it’s not her first [...]
  1. Brody Vercher
    April 7, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    I agree that Strait sounded liberated, he had more excitement in his voice and seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself. Great reviews.

  2. Jenna Vercher
    April 8, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I wasn’t too impressed with Martina’s new album.

  3. Baron Lane
    April 9, 2007 at 5:10 am

    I’m with ya Jenna. Martina is just another songbird, like Faith, Shania and Carrie, singing market-tested country-crossover dreck. Loretta and Dolly should perform some interventions.

  4. Matt C.
    April 9, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I’ll take Loretta and Dolly over Martina any day, but music of that style and caliber isn’t getting exposure anymore. Radio is dominated by songbirds and Martina is one of the best. I’m not going to hold the fact that music has changed against her. There are several very strong cuts amongst a few “dreck” disappointments on her latest album.

  5. Rick F.
    April 12, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    I just found the website tonight, searching for the Tracy Lawrence song Who Your Friends Are. No trouble finding the song, but I wanted the one with McGraw and Chesney. The only way I found it was a google link to your website and thanks for that.

    So, I read a bit and I like very much. I’ll be back and I hope you keep it up. But one suggestion (from a redneck Idaho ‘perfessor’ with one leg in the best of both worlds. In the review above about Martina’s newest CD, Matt C said,

    “The change is refreshing, and while the project is not a bastion of lyrical complexity, it contains a pleasant selection of Martina’s typical inspirationals performed with an elegance that has been missing from her recent endeavors.”

    Careful there hoss. “Bastion of lyrical complexity?” That kind of twisted hard-sell makes it difficult to take your criticisms serious. Why do we expect lyrical complexity? Just tell us what you think and how it fits in with the rest of what she does.

    You guys point out yourself, 70% of Martina’s buyers are women. She’s not singing to us boys, she’s got a message for women who struggle and the women who struggle are usually not struggling for the same reasons a man struggles. She’s saying things to women in a way they hear. It’s working. Guess it’s not about lyrical complexity. And who needs a bastion of anything?

    Keep it simple. Most of it is only three chords anyway. It supposed to be simple. I like simple. The voice sets it apart.

    I like your website. Keep it up.

    Funk

  6. Matt C
    April 12, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Rick, thanks for reading The 9513.

    Regarding your comment, the line you reference is at most a statement of fact with an implied reference to one of the things I think about when listening to an album. I tend to weigh lyrics, songwriting and cohesiveness more heavily than arrangement and vocal performance when considering entire albums. That’s just my style. Nonetheless, I acknowledged that Martina’s performance is very strong on many of the cuts and gave the album a good review. It’s a bit of an overreaction to suggest that my reviews should not be taken seriously because of a one-line factual statement (that you appear to agree with) that perhaps contains a subtle suggestion that I value something different.

  7. Rick F.
    April 12, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Hey, all I meant was to try and keep it simple. It’s a basic rule of writing. Your sentence was an example of “lyrical complexity.”

    It was a drive by shooting, and sorry for that. I’ll keep reading, especially when you guys comment so quickly!

    Funk

  8. Sara
    April 29, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Does anyone know what three chords are played in “Trying to find a reason”?

  9. Ron
    October 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Wow, Mr. Matt C, I suggest you learn how to differentiate between “fact” and “opinion.” Truly, you state very few facts in this review–now I admit that’s your job, I mean, that’s what reviews are, they’re opinions, so obviously I’m not holding that against you.

    Anyhow, as I await Martina’s new album, I looked at some reviews from her past work, this one being an example. I’m not a woman suffering from anything, I’m actually a teenage dude who just appreciates good vocals–and Martina’s the best in the business.

    By the way, “Anyway,” that “over-produced and over-sung lead single” still remains her best-selling online single. I just don’t get you guys–you say you want something fresh, then you tell her to get in a time machine and sing songs like “Independence Day” again.

    I can’t wait for “Eleven” though–Teenage Daughters was a fantastic lead single, and based on the track samples I’ve listened to, it’s a whole new sound from an unmatched vocalist.

  10. Timmy Tommy
    October 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Wow. This is just more evidence that country music is kinda not exactly the sort of music that is aimed at intelligent people. How do country musicians respect themselves knowing that they are basically entertainers aiming at such lowbrow stuff? Country fans are bad enough but I think it is the musicians that really deserve our scorn.

  11. Niki
    October 3, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I agree with Ron–a great album. I think I like her new single better than “Teenage Daughters” though…

    Not sure what Timmy Tommy is trying to say, but I wish he could keep it respectful behind his little computer screen.

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