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Martina McBride rolls on

By Michael Rampa, February 2012

Martina McBride was introduced at a CMT awards presentation as "one of the greatest voices ever created by God." While debatable that her voice may be the result of divine creation, her high octane soprano is one of the most beautiful and powerful in music.

Her latest studio release, "Eleven" ("Hits And More" came out in January as a greatest hits plus package) is her most personal to date. Most everything about the record is unorthodox starting with its launch via train tour. Twenty years into her career, she severed ties with the long-time label and management that brought her superstar status and with which she has garnered multiple awards and 24 Top 10 singles.

In many ways, she is a study in contradiction. Hardly an imposing physical presence at 5'2', her vocal pyrotechnics challenge the structural integrity of any venue. She has made a career recording songs that empower women like the peppy This One's for the Girls, but her signature, Independence Day is more somber and deals with domestic abuse.

Additionally, she has been country music's most-played female artist of the past 11 years.

Parents need not worry about her being a role model. If you ran a background check, all you would find is a halo. She has been married for more than 20 years with 3 loving daughters. She lit the Empire State building pink in honor of breast cancer awareness and one of her tour sponsors was Sunny Delight. Radio stations of various formats have included her rendition of the national anthem in their playlists.

Martina McBride at KSSN, Little Rock, Ark. on Sept. 29, 2011

She discussed everything from her new role as a songwriter to Smokey Robinson's admiration for her talent in this recent interview.

A lot of things are different about this album from how it was launched to where it was recorded. Most superstars with a 20-year success record don't veer from the path that brought them so far. What prompted you to change labels and management and become so involved in songwriting at this stage of your career?
As far as the change with the label and management, it just felt like the right time to make a change, After working with the same people for a really long time, you tend to get really comfortable. I felt like it was time to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to shake things up a little bit and get a different energy. As far as songwriting, I really took the time and decided to get serious about it. I've always written songs, but never gave it the time or attention it deserved, and so I decided to do that, and I'm really glad I did.

You're known for being a great song selector; how does it feel to be on the creative side as a writer?
It's great. I didn't think they would feel more personal because I always thought I made all my songs my own, anyway. But it does feel more personal, especially when you sing a song about your life, like Teenage Daughters, so it's really a cool feeling, you feel a connection to it in a different way.

The first two singles were songs about cancer support and raising teenage girls; powerful and relatable themes that are also prime chart material. Does commercial success ever drive your choice to put certain songs on a record?
No, not at all. I don't ever assume. The radio world is so unpredictable, you never know what will work and what won't. I just try to find songs I think people can relate to. Obviously, lots of people can relate to having teenage daughters and unfortunately, a lot of folks can relate to loving someone through cancer. When you're looking at a forum like radio where a lot of people are hearing the songs, you want people to relate to the songs.

What are your thoughts on country music becoming too "pop?" Many acts that have broken through under the country umbrella have gone on to be huge crossover stars. Taylor's 2011 tour was second in total revenue behind only U2, one of the biggest bands in history.
I think it's great, country music has always had pop stars, from Johnny Cash to Glen Campbell. There have always been artists that have crossed over and have been on the pop charts, and it's good for country music.

You have a strong public image with a loving family; you support worthy causes and are scandal free. With a few exceptions, many country artists fit a similar profile. What is it about this genre that keeps it so G rated and accessible to fans of all types of music.
Country music is about real life and strong values. It's just a part of who we are.

Smokey Robinson asked me if I ever heard a country artist cover a Motown classic. I mentioned what a great job you did with Natural Woman He replied, "That's because Martina McBride is the bomb, baby." I asked him if he would entrust you with one of his songs. He said, "I would trust her with any of them." Coming from a Motown legend, what does that mean to you?
That's amazing. So cool. He's obviously a legend and one of the greatest Motown singers so that's an extremely flattering thing to say.

When this era of country music ages enough to be called "classic" who do you think will be labeled as the pioneers 30 years from now?
That's a really good question. I think people like Keith Urban. George Strait, and Alan Jackson. Taylor Swift is also breaking new ground.

The 1980s were a strange decade for music of all types. As a teenager during that time, who were your influences?
Everybody from Reba to Pat Benatar to Journey. I was influenced by the country music my dad used to play like Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings and Loretta Lynn.

Do you consider yourself a crossover star?
I don't really think about it, I haven't really had a pop hit, maybe a few on adult contemporary. I just make the music I make, and I'm up for anybody playing it that wants to.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Definitely doing the same thing I'm doing now; making music and doing concert tours, I love what I do. I'm having the best time I've ever had on stage and in the studio.

I've only seen two singers who have kept up with you on a duet, Pat Benatar (Independence Day) and Pat Monahan from Train (A Broken Wing). He said, "I might need a medic" before you began and was completely gassed at the end. And he gave that song all he had. What were those (CMT Crossroads) shows like?
Of course I love Pat Benatar. She was one of my big influences and it was a thrill to share the stage. Pat Monahan is one of my favorite singers out there now; he's so soulful. We did a duet of a Train song, Marry Me on the record, and we were in the studio together. It was an amazing experience.