Martina McBride has been music for 20 years, but “Eleven,” out today, marks a whole new start for the Grammy-nominated singer.
“Eleven,” her 11th studio album, is her first for a new label, her first under her new management team, and more significantly, the first album where she has co-written the bulk of the songs, and recorded outside of Nashville.
“I just tried to make my environment such that I didn”t have any other responsibilities for the time I was tracking,” she says. “Just to make the music the focus. It was a luxury I”d never experienced before, not even before I had kids.”
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McBride and producer Byron Gallimore (who also just produced “American Idol” runner-up Lauren Alaina”s album) beat a retreat to Atlanta to record. While it was hard to be away from her three daughters, she says, escaping “the tugs of everyday life… made a huge difference in being able to dive in and explore.”
That focus shows. The 10-time Grammy nominee has always had one of the clearest, strongest voices in country music, and on “Eleven,” she widens the parameters to include blues and soul influences, such as on the sultry “You Can Get Your Lovin” Right Here.” While still undeniably country, “Eleven” showcases the artist”s broadest range yet.
The album opens with “One Night,” an uptempo love letter to her fans who come see her live. She plans to use it as a show opener as well. “It”s such a great greeting. We”re here together. We only have this one night.”
Though touring remains challenging, given her dedication to her family, she loves her time on stage. “It”s about making a connection. I could blow through 17 songs and be done, but that”s unsatisfying,” she says. “I really need to make a connection. How can we connect? There are nights when you really get so much energy from the audience and joy and love that washes over you and you build on it.” McBride will go back out on the road opening for George Strait in early 2012.
“I get to be on the side of the stage and get to watch his show and hear all those songs and that voice… he”s just amazing,” she says. Of Strait”s “relaxed” stage presence (i.e.: he stands in front of a microphone and doesn”t move), “maybe that”s the lesson. When you have that great body of work and that ‘thing,” maybe all you do is stand there and swing. He doesn”t feel the need to keep it at fever pitch.”
“Eleven” also includes a duet with Train”s Pat Monahan on the band”s sweet “Marry Me.” Monahan and McBride first performed the song together on a CMT special. Monahan came to the Atlanta studio where the two turned the tune into a true duet by swapping verses. “We were in the studio, facing each other, singing to each other. His voice is so inspiring to me,” McBride says.
One of the album”s most vulnerable tracks is the lovely, bittersweet “Long Distance Lullaby” about her three children. She hesitates to tell stories about her girls though. “I can”t tell funny kid stories anymore because they”re mortified,” she says with a laugh.
McBride, who got her first break selling merchandise for Garth Brooks (who later had her open for him) has a long history of tackling social issues on her albums, including domestic abuse on “Independence Day” or child abuse on “Concrete Angel.” On “Eleven,” she addresses breast cancer on “I”m Going To Love You Through It,” a song from the perspective of the caretakers surrounding their afflicted love one. The touching video includes breast cancer survivors Sheryl Crow, “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts and “Today’s” Hoda Kotb, as well as other survivors. On Oct. 22, she will headline Women Rock For the Cure at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, alongside Alaina and Kellie Pickler. The evening will raise funds for breast cancer awareness.
McBride is a big proponent of Twitter and has found expressing herself in 140 characters or less a great way to, here”s that word again, connect with her fans and show a different side. “Over the years, people have said, ‘you”re fun and funny.” People generally don”t know that because I”m asked about serious stuff and I give serious answers [in interviews]. Twitter has allowed me to open up a little.”