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.