Martina McBride, Shine

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March 24, 2009

martina-shineMartina McBride
Shine

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Like Waking Up Laughing before it, Shine promises a far more upbeat album than Martina McBride intends to deliver. It’s almost disappointing, as McBride can be a burst of positivity when she sets her mind to it, with deliciously upbeat treats like “Safe in the Arms of Love” and “Happy Girl” to her credit.

There are a few songs in that vein this time around. “Ride”, the infectious first single, open with a “Yeah!” that would make Shania Twain proud, and McBride belts the song with eager intensity. Equally charming is “Sunny Side Up”, which was co-written by McBride herself. It’s the closest thing to “Walking on Sunshine” that we’re ever likely to hear in country music.

The best of the upbeat material comes late in the album. “You’re Not Leaving Me” is McBride’s most convincing rocker to date, all fiery conviction and stubborn will. You can almost hear her furrowing her brow and putting her foot down, stopping her weak-kneed partner in his tracks.

But a few of the other uptempo attempts falter because they don’t strike the right tone. The jangly “Don’t Cost a Dime” is almost Beatlesque, but the banality of the lyrics make it an unconvincing attempt at boosting the morale of those dealing with hard times.

The lyrics are stronger on album opener “Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong”, but the song never gets off the ground. With a faster tempo and a more energetic production, it would have been far more effective.

Then again, McBride is known most for her ballads. On Shine, those are also a mixed bag. She has powerful pipes, more than enough to keep up with the bombastic production of “What Do I Have to Do”, but that doesn’t make it necessary.  Witness how much more effectively the simple fiddle and acoustic guitar frame her voice on the opening verse of “Walk Away.” It makes the clutter of the chorus that much more of a disappointment to hear.

The album’s most effective moments are those that avoid the big vocals and bigger sonic backdrops and allow McBride to simply emote. There is a stunning dialogue between a recovering alcoholic and his wife called “I’m Trying”, and it is among McBride’s finest moments on record. She captures the complexity of each character’s emotions, expressing both tension and release as they struggle with his addiction.

I also enjoyed the album closer “Lies”, which is thematically similar to Dolly Parton’s “The Grass is Blue.” The lyrics are a tad contrived, but McBride’s vocal is anything but cloying. Like all of the best moments on Shine, it sounds authentic and she sings it without straining for power, a reminder that she can be quite the deft interpreter when she’s not reaching for the glory notes.


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  1. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    I am really enjoying this album right now- “Lies”, “Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong” and “Walk Away” being my favorites. She oversings a lot less, and I really love that she’s toning her voice down a little.

  2. SamBNo Gravatar says:

    I actually really like this album, I think it’s much stronger than Waking Up Laughing, and maybe (for me) her best since Wild Angels.

    My least favourite songs, as always, are the pseudo-inspirational things, like Sunny Side Up, though Ride has a really good hook and strong melody line. My favourite tracks are when Martina reins it all in a bit, as you say, in I’m Trying and Lies.

  3. We seem to be of exact opposite views on this album, Kevin.

  4. ErikNo Gravatar says:

    OK, I suck. That’s my other e-mail adress that I managed to paste into the place where my screen-name goes.

  5. dudleyNo Gravatar says:

    It could be that the early appearance (in the sequencing, I mean) of “I Just Call You Mine” irrevocably tainted the way I heard Shine, but I think it’s a disappointing album. I don’t think it stands up well to the most recent releases from Trisha Yearwood and Lee Ann Womack, both of whose albums show more personality and dimension via stronger lyrics. I bring up Trisha and Lee Ann because they, like Martina, are among the genre’s greatest vocalists and interpretive singers and they, too, mostly cull their material from other songwriters.

    I absolutely adore the timbre of Martina’s voice but what’s missing for me is any sense of emotional intimacy outside of the wonderful “I’m Tryin’,” which improves on the recording by Diamond Rio/Chely Wright (I haven’t heard Kevin Sharp’s version). And again, for the most part, that comes down to the lyrics on the album. Generally, they keep both singer and listener at least an arm’s length away.

    And too often, the lyrics are downright dopey. “I Just Call You Mine” is one treacly cliche after another, and reads as a creepily co-dependent ode to a loved one in its secular interpretation. It will be incredibly annoying if/when it is sent out as a single from the album (the melody is catchy and Martina sounds nice if I tune out the lyrics, I’ll give it that). “Walk Away” is probably the best power ballad on the album, predictable production choices notwithstanding. But it, too, is weighed down by predictable rhymes and a chorus whose lyrics lack internal consistency (she starts by begging the guy to let her walk away but halfway through the chorus, she is singing that she’ll be fine and she’ll move on. How does that follow?).

    Even “Sunny Side Up,” which is a breezy charmer, has a line that goes “I still see the beautiful in your favorite song on the radio.” Maybe I’m being uncharitable, but she’s “see”ing something in a song she hears? Stuff like that just makes me grumpy (I know, I hide it so well).

    I like “You’re Not Leavin’ Me,” but keep getting distracted by what I think is its melodic similarity to Trisha’s “Heaven, Heartache & the Power of Love.” And Martina’s song and vocal don’t hold up quite as well in the comparison. Still, it is one of the album standouts for me.

    The album is frustrating because although Martina sounds quite good throughout, I feel like she has let the depth of her music suffer in her grab for commercial relevance. A different but related kind of tension riddles Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy (in Lee Ann’s case, it’s the traditional vs. contemporary country divide), but I think Lee Ann’s album is more interesting than Martina’s throughout.

  6. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    Dudley, honestly Shine isn’t nearly in the same league as Call Me Crazy or HHatPoL, but I wasn’t expecting it to be honestly. Shine is a great Martina album, but it doesn’t compare to the other two, so that seems like a silly knock against the album.

    I also think that “I Just Call You Mine” isn’t really that cliche, I actually think it is a refreshing and different take on an old theme- I quite like it actually.

  7. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    Without going into the business of comparing Martina to contemporaries like Trisha Yearwood, I must admit that I’ve had a hard time of really warming up to her material for two reasons: one being that she sometimes sings just a little too loud at inappropriate times; and two, a lot of her material seems to be inoffensive to the point of being dangerously bland.

    Maybe this is where I give her more of an opportunity than I’ve done in the past.

  8. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I finally had a chance to listen to Martina’s album, yesterday (yay Rhapsody!), and I was pretty uninspired. As everyone else has said, I give her credit for vocal restraint. I was unimpressed by the song selections though. I still long for her choices of the early to mid-nineties.

    I can’t think of a single song on the album that I’d purposely play again. There were some that were simply boring while others were okay, but not overly memorable. This is still a step above Waking Up Laughing, which isn’t saying much coming from me.

  9. Razor XNo Gravatar says:

    “I’m Trying” is the one song on the album that I really like. I agree with Leann that it’s a step up from Waking Up Laughing, and I also agree that this isn’t much of a compliment.

    I really wonder what Martina honestly thinks about her recent material. She had such a knack for picking out great songs earlier in her career, that I can’t believe that she is unaware of how bland and uninspired her recent output has been. it seems like she’s less interested in making great music than she is of trying to stay at the top of the charts. It’s also interesting to note that her attempts to stay commercially relevant haven’t been that successful.

  10. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Good observations Razor. I too wonder what she thinks of her recent output and the fact that it really hasn’t paid off in awhile. Martina did improve upon Diamond Rio’s version of “I’m Trying”, but I guess I’m still not into the song in general, because I still thought it lacked something.

  11. Razor XNo Gravatar says:

    Maybe I am just getting old and cranky, but it just occurred to me that if she had put out this album 10 or 15 years ago, I probably would have liked it a lot more than I do now.

    I think a lot of the appeal of “I’m Trying” is the stripped-down production, as opposed to the “Wall of Sound” approach used on most of the rest of the album.

  12. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t know, Razor, I’m still in my twenties and I don’t like this. My tastes have changed over the years since I’ve gotten into country music though.

  13. ““I’m Trying” is the one song on the album that I really like. I agree with Leann that it’s a step up from Waking Up Laughing, and I also agree that this isn’t much of a compliment.”

    Me too – and although it’s marginally better overall than Waking Up Laughing, I’m not sure if it would be without ‘I’m Trying’ in the mix. Sunny Side Up is positvely annoying (though to be fair with a title like that I didn’t expect a good song).

  14. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Okay, I’ve listened to “I’m Trying” again and I take back what I said about it. It turns out that I’m really liking it after all. I still don’t like the Diamond Rio/Chely WRight version, but this one fills in what I thought was lacking from theirs. The melody is just so simple that it’s easy to overlook at first.

  15. SparkyNo Gravatar says:

    I think all of you that are bad mouthing this shine album are silly. This album is great and as the rest of martina’s albums should be treated with respect.

  16. Jalon WattsNo Gravatar says:

    I agree “Sparky!” “LeAnn,” you need to take a chill pill. I mean give me a freaking break, “Shine,” is very enthusiastic, and exciting album! You’re an idiot!!! I LOVE THIS ALBUM! :) :) :)

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