According to Maroon 5, “Nothing lasts forever.” Yep, the pop band’s simple lyric from an obscure non-single from sophomore album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long is a perfect description for the longevity of popularity within the music industry. Another way to phrase it is that popularity wanes much like cotton candy melts in ones mouth. Bummer! For country superstar Martina McBride, sales haven’t been nearly as electrifying as they once were. Honestly, the “Independence Day” caliber hits just aren’t rolling out as they once did. For her 12th album, rather than go with a new set of originals, she opts for throwback, specifically soul music. While the notion is a bit unorthodox for a country singer to tackle soul, it’s not that far-fetched. Deep soul definitely had countrified characteristics, right? Don’t get things twisted, McBride doesn’t suddenly transform into Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin, but she does pleasantly execute on this set.
Opener “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is something of a natural fit for McBride, since the Aretha Franklin classic possesses country cues. Sure McBride doesn’t eclipse the Queen, nor does she bother to try to, but she holds her own on the slow classic. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” sets the tone early on for Everlasting. Follow-up “Suspicious Minds”, popularized by Elvis, is successful for the most part, if a shade less enthralling. The bridge, a big-time contrasting section, could’ve used a bit more assertiveness, but it doesn’t kill the vibe. Covering the legendary Teddy Pendergrass, however, can be tricky given the sheer power and distinctiveness of pipes, but McBride goes for it on the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. While it expectedly fails to eclipse the original, McBride’s interpretation is no slouch, with her opting for a smoother, gentler take. It’s no grand reinvention, but definitely worthwhile.
“Little Bit of Rain”, a cover of brevity, proves to be a balancing act, with soul preserved stylistically, and country successfully infused within. Follow up “Bring It on Home to Me”, a Sam Cooke gem, finds a gentler McBride assisted by a more overt, cutting Gavin DeGraw. Working together as a duo, “Bring It on Home to Me” ends up with a mix of ingredients that successfully creates a tasty recipe, or rather an enjoyable, notable interpretation. The tempo is accelerated on “Come See About Me”, where McBride’s cool style continues to dominate. While the desire for more of a push from the artist still lingers, the tongue-in-cheek nature of track doesn’t necessarily require powerhouse pipes. Vintage soul backing vocals accentuate, providing some magnificent ear candy.
They say go big or go home, and that’s the case occurring with two preeminent soul classics appearing consecutively in “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. McBride splits the pair, pulling off Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” more convincingly than Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”. McBride by no means supplants Redding, but again, the ability for a countrified transformation yields better results. “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” lacks a sense of authenticity, something many who have covered the classic experience. It also lacks a natural bridge to the country setting.
“Wild Night” quickens the pace, with McBride sticking to her restrained script. She copies the same formula on highlight “In the Basement”, but gets a gritty, powerhouse assist from Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson outshines McBride here, tapping into her love of those vocal aerobics known as runs. “My Babe” isn’t stuck in any basement, again balancing country and soul with few cons. “To Know Him Is to Love Him” closes the standard edition solidly, allowing McBride to end the effort in good voice. It’s no “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, but it works. iTunes offers a bonus track version of Everlasting, which tacks on “By Your Side” and “Perfect”.
Ultimately, Everlasting is a sound and enjoyable effort from the established country artist. That said the furthest Martina McBride steps outside the box is merely covering the soul classics, rarely owning them. There’s nothing wrong with McBride being firmly planted within her country niche, but a little more grit certainly would’ve taken many of these classics to the next level.
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// Notes from the Road
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