Martina McBride, Waking Up Laughing

Martina McBride
Waking Up Laughing
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As the genre’s leading female vocalist for the past few years, it’s hard not to have high expectations for a Martina McBride record. Her consistent success at radio and retail allows her to command top-drawer material, and this is her first collection of new songs since 2003. It’s not a good sign when I’m listening to an album from an artist of McBride’s stature and I’m wondering, “Why is she recording this?”

There are some undeniably strong songs and performances here, but they’re scattered among boring, interchangeable pap that tries to be empowering for women but ends up coming across as an audio Hallmark card. Heartbroken? It’s okay, “Everybody Does” go through heartache, but just “Cry Cry (‘Till The Sun Shines)” and it will get better. “For These Times” is a “message song” so vaguely written that both a hardcore conservative and hardcore liberal could be forgiven for thinking it shares their world view. “Beautiful Again” is a disturbingly jaunty sing-a-long about the sexual abuse of a child. And maybe I’m just a little slow, but I don’t get what’s going on in “If I Had Your Name” at all.


But give McBride a simple, traditional country song like “Tryin’ to Find a Reason” and she knocks it out of the park, and speaks truth about the human experience in the way the best country music can, but most adult contemporary cannot. Speaking of adult contemporary, the lead single “Anyway” is an absolutely gorgeous rewriting of Mother Teresa’s “Anyway” poem, which was based on the Paradoxical Commandments. If she had cut back on the strings and let the song end softly, rather than come back for the big finish, it would’ve been a masterpiece, but even as is, it’s an essential performance.

McBride finishes off the record with two songs that are among the best she’s ever recorded. “House of a Thousand Dreams” captures the inner monologues of a husband and wife who both think they’re not doing enough for their family, even though they’re working as hard as they can, and then ends with the idyllic voice inside their young son’s head, who knows he’s loved and thinks they’re the best parents in the world. It sounds sappy as described, but it’s actually quite poignant, and every word rings true.

Even better is the stunning album closer, “Love Land”, which finds an unwed mother pressured into marrying against her wishes, and having the baby die, yet the support her husband gives her in the process helps her discover the love that she’s always wanted in him. Again, every word rings true, as the characters are completely human and multi-dimensional.

McBride hasn’t made a truly great album since Wild Angels, but when at her best, she makes some of the best mainstream country music. The good news is that the vocal histrionics are kept to a minimum, and the strongest material here shows her song sense can be very much on the mark.

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7 Responses to Martina McBride, Waking Up Laughing

  1. I also had no idea what “If I Had Your Name” was about, though I wasn’t brave enough to admit it in my review. I concluded that it was just a poor attempt at building a song around a hook line (it is a great hook).

    I don’t think the fluff on this album is any worse than the fluff on other Martina albums, and, even if poorly chosen, at least they make the album seem thematically cohesive. Martina isn’t much of an album artist anyway, so the most important thing is the exceptional quality of the best cuts.

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I’ve listened to the album several times this weekend – other than TIMELESS, I think this is the best album Martina’s done over the last six or seven years – I’d give it a B or a B+

  3. JessicaNo Gravatar

    I wanted very much to like this album, but as a whole it kind of let me down. I just couldn’t find a connection to as many of the songs as I usually do for an artisit I like. There were some really good ones that were very “Martina” but I think my expectations were a bit too high. Grade C+

  4. SallyNo Gravatar

    I kind of thought ‘If I had your name” was basically saying “I want you out of my life. You’re no good, ect”. I really like the song, even if the words are kind of weird. I agree with your review of Love Land – It’s my favourite song on the album pretty much.

  5. JordanNo Gravatar

    This was an album I was looking forward to for so long, so I was a bit shocked when it wasn’t her normal material. After a few listens I got used to it but it’s still not the album I was waiting for. I was much more Impressed with Angela Hacker’s debute and Alison Krauss’ new collection, than with this one, but it’s still one of the best albums this year. B+

  6. Jordan,
    I just posted a review of the Krauss collection. I definitely share your enthusiasm. I’ve only sampled the Hacker set so far, but I like what I’ve heard.

  7. I agree that it’s an uneven collection, but I like the open-endedness of “For These Times.” Sure it’s vague, but I think it does a good job of avoiding both soap-boxing and pablum. I also really don’t mind that “If I Had Your Name” doesn’t make much sense because it’s so bad-ass. On the other hand, I thought “Anyway” was treacly crap when I first heard it, but that was before I knew about the connection with Mother Theresa. I’ll try and listen to it again with that in mind.