artina McBride said of "Reckless," her first country album in five years, that she wanted to get back to the old school, sorting through hundreds of songs from Music City's best songwriters and employing its best producers. As it turns out, it wasn't a very long trip.
The Kansas native broke onto the scene with her 1992 debut "The Time has Come" using the same formula. This year's "Love Unleashed" tour is part of CMT's "Women In Country Music" series. For this bill, they chose to double down on vocal horsepower by booking Laura Alaina as the opener. The season 10 American Idol runner up more than held her own in the high decibel category.
Alaina performed a full throttle eight song set from her brand new "Road Less Traveled." It is a deeply honest, introspective effort that alternates between heavy handedness and contemporary numbers. She introduced the title track with teary eyes, citing its inspiration from her father's alcoholism and her own battle with bulimia.
Her lighthearted moments came when she brought a young man from the audience to stage to dance with her on the club ready "Next Boyfriend." She then threw in a cover of Katy Perry's "Firework" and showcased her vocal pyrotechnics. Both were fitting as Alaina is a reality show product, and many of her songs and her show have more of a glossy pop feel rather than country.
After a short video of McBride explaining the concept of the "Love Unleashed" tour, the curtain dropped on the four time CMA winner wielding a harmonica which she deftly played on "Love's The Only House." The all-male band handled backup vocals this time around. Guitarist Greg Foresman has been with McBride for over 20 years and it shows. He can shine out front with scorching solos where the band follows his lead or be effective in a supporting role and on acoustic.
Midway, McBride appeared at a piano to display her newly acquired skill set for a heartfelt version of "Ain't It Pretty." By her own admission, some of the album has this type of country pop feel. But one can easily see "We'll Pick Up Where We Left Off" and "The Real Thing" in Dolly Parton or Patsy Cline's hands. She performed Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving you Again and "(I Never Promised You) A Rose Garden" as if to underscore the traditional vibe she was going for.
Of course, the mega hits were interspersed. She steered the sellout crowd through a 24-year recording career from her first number 1 "Wild Angels" to the sunshine laced "This One's For The Girls" and the moving cancer anthem, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It." Per usual, the one-two knockout punch of "A Broken Wing" and "Independence Day" was the highlight and typically closes the show. But those who headed for the doors were soon rushing back in as McBride put the exclamation point on the mood of the evening and performed the Beatles classic "All you Need Is Love." She tearfully thanked the crowd for their support for "allowing me to still make records after all these years."