red lights


Country gal best when concentrating
on the classic over contemporary

Martina McBride
Rosemont Theatre
Rosemont, IL
Jan. 29, 2006
Martina McBride Martina McBride

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

When Martina McBride visited the Allstate Arena two years ago, she served as the opening act for Alan Jackson, who's known for preserving the roots of country & western music, while somehow managing to find favor on commercial radio. Martina McBrideThough she didn't have too much time to communicate with the carnivorous venue that evening, most were already familiar with the songstress because she'd been straddling between country and pop borders since officially debuting in 1992. But as the now established artist visited the Rosemont Theatre on a brand new tour (this time as the headliner) her focus shifted from those somewhat watered down and formulaic sounds in favor of a more traditional appeal found on 2005's Timeless. The disc was the first in McBride's career when she was given full creative control and the results were surprisingly far away from the Faith Hill types and much closer to the genre's forefathers, focusing on covers by Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Hank Williams and many others.

In fact, the singer appeared so proud of this direction that she spent a hearty portion of the concert not only playing such selections, but explained her motivation for recording them. With her slick but authentic backing band in tow, she unloaded staples like Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night," Eddy Arnold's "Make the World Go Away" and Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You." A treatment of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" was extremely tender and beautiful, while Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" was delivered with as much ruggedness as McBride's normally sweet tone could muster.

In comparison, some of the songs she originally made famous throughout the 90s and into today were much less satisfying and seemed lightweight. Martina McBrideSure cuts like "Happy Girl" and "Wild Angels" were cutesy, colorful and in some cases, socially conscious, but they still lacked the meat and might of the above. The self-admittedly sappy "Valentine" and the equally slow "In My Daughters Eyes" came across as mundane, but then again, these tracks made McBride a household name she's obliged to perform them time and time again. Chances are if it wasn't for their enormous sales, the performer would've never earned a record label's blessing to truly return to her roots and thus introduce the Timeless treasures to a younger generation.

Even with the merging of these two somewhat different worlds, McBride was always poised and congenial, confirming that country based artists are often the most consistently genuine. After all, it wasn't that long ago when the superstar was playing weddings, VFW halls and country fairs, though she's clearly earned her stripes and applied them to being a more well rounded entertainer. And while the greatest hits half of the show didn't reinvent the wheel (aside from a stunning ballad called "Concrete Angel" that drew attention to child abuse) McBride's decision to revisit yesteryear has opened up the door for exciting possibilities. Now hopefully she'll apply those flourishes and the obvious passion running through this period to her next all original studio effort, ditching careful calculations for some spirited and raw risk taking.

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