Album Review: Martina McBride — Eleven

Ken Morton, Jr. | November 2nd, 2011

martinaelevenTo say that Martina McBride has pipes is an understatement. Her finely tuned instrument has long been one of country music’s most welcome voices. Her singing is big, natural and done largely without vocal gymnastics.  There is no denying that her talent is a Nashville treasure. But while her voice has never lost the power it holds, her music had gotten tired. It had grown tired not from a performance standpoint, but from a song choice selection standpoint. It seemed that the McBride camp forever picked positive-message-woman-empowerment-I-can-conquer-the-world singles that weren’t necessarily poor choices in a singular analysis. But the themes became predictable, as they did in the early 2000s with the release of “This One’s For the Girls,” “When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues,” “Concrete Angel,” and more.

With a move from her longtime music label RCA Nashville to Republic Nashville this past year, could a new team and a fresh start change things up enough to tackle some new messages? Thankfully, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” On McBride’s eleventh studio album, she’s brought in a terrific array of song topics that run the gamut of emotions. She balances as warm fuzzy love with emotional heartache in equal parts. The fact that she has a song on the album called “When You Love a Sinner” is a sign.

The heart of the album, tracks four through six, are fantastic. The surprise of the bunch is a duet with rock band Train’s lead singer Pat Monahan on “Marry Me.” Those that caught  McBride’s mash-up with the band on CMT Crossroads a year or two back might remember that they took this, Train’s single at the time, and turned it into this performance. The song is incredibly well told and performed beautifully. Two lost souls have fallen in love with each other across a room and while their imagination races about what could be, neither can get up the nerve to get up and approach the other: “Marry me/ Today and every day/Marry me/If I ever get the nerve to say hello in this café.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as deep or emotive on “Broken Umbrella,” but McBride brings in Carolyn Dawn Johnson and horns in on the track to give it a fresh and bold sound. The “big band” sound lets McBride let loose and show off her range, making it all feel natural in approach. She comes right back with a funky guitar groove number called “You Can Get Your Lovin’ Right Here.” It’s R&B driven with a little more horns and even some finger-snaps for attitude. McBride shows off a new side that’s extremely sexy and sassy.

Because of the strength of her voice, the tracks such as “Always Be This Way” that have shortly sung words strung together quickly don’t have nearly the impact that when things slow down on the ballads which allow her to showcase her vocals, like “Summer of Love.” In the case of the latter, McBride’s vocal abilities are even more apparent when, instead of over-producing the track with an incredible crescendo on the bridge, they go the other way and withdraw the vocals and make them soft and intimate. It’s a great contrast to the balance of the track and draws you into the song well.

Feeling more organic and acoustic in production than most of her previous albums, this is one of McBride’s strongest albums in nearly a decade. Over twenty different writers contributed to the project including Rebecca Lynn Howard, The Warren Brothers, Kacey Musgraves and Rachel Thibodeau, to name just a few. The diversity of voices and themes found on Eleven suits the one with the incredible voice well.

3.5 Stars

  1. Ben Foster
    November 2, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Fantastic review, Ken! I loved this album, and gave it the same rating as you did. I agree that “Marry Me” was something of an unexpected standout. I especially love the harmony part. The first two tracks were pretty fluffy, but I found them fun to sing along to, and I liked the reggae flavor of “Always Be This Way.” The horns on “Lovin'” and “Broken Umbrella” sounded very cool.

    Probably for me the most pleasant surprise was that the ballads were much more sparsely produced than what has been McBride’s tendency in recent years. I’d say my favorite tracks were probably “Sinner,” “Marry Me,” and “Teenage Daughters.” I think it’s time for me to listen to this album again!

  2. Rick
    November 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I have never cared for Martina McBride, nor Reba all that much, nor Jennifer Nettles. I’m just not a fan of belters and vocalists who add way too many embellishments. Just not interested under any circumstances where Martina is concerned…

  3. luckyoldsun
    November 2, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Can’t disagree with you on McBride; I think Reba is enough of an individualist and vocal innovator that she’s definitely worth listening to.

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