My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Timeless’

Timeless

Timeless

By 2005 Martina McBride’s music had seemingly progressed further and further away from her country roots. She showed she had not forgotten those roots by recording a classic covers album. Tt was received enthusiastically by her fans – in fact she achieved her highest ever first-week sales with this release, and the album was ultimately a platinum seller despite poor radio support.

The prospect of one of the finest and most naturally gifted country singers of her generation tackling great songs with mostly more traditional country arrangements was mouthwatering. There was also an exceptionally generous number of tracks – the standard US edition boasted 18 songs, with four added tracks on the European version. The vocals, as expected, are impeccable, and the beautifully realised arrangements are reverent recreations of the originals – but that is really the main criticism that the album faces – some critics complained that Martina was too faithful to the original versions and brought too little new. Martina had co-produced some of her earlier albums, but produced this one solo.

The lead single was Lynn Anderson’s signature song ‘Rose Garden’, which made it into the top 20 for Martina. This was probably a poor choice as it is one of the more dated sounding tracks with an efficient but somewhat anonymous vocal, and a timeless sounding ballad with more emotional weight would have been a more comfortable fit for Martina’s fans and country radio; my feeling is that this single choice set the tone for the album’s under-performance at radio., which was unfortunate.

The second, and much better, single was a beautiful version of ‘I Still Miss Someone’, with Dolly Parton harmonising. Unfortunately I think the poor showing of ‘Rose Garden’ meant radio had no enthusiasm for another cover, and it peaked at #50, but had this been the first release, I suspect it would have done better.

Another highlight comes with the beautiful, measured melancholy of Martina’s version of the Haggard classic ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’, where she brings out the sadness of the song’s emotion, and does succeed in making it her own (and entirely convincing). This is one of the finest moments of Martina’s career from an artistic viewpoint, and really deserved wider dissemination. ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ and Tammy Wynette’s ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own’ are also exqusitely done with sensitively interpreted vocals and subtle interpretations.

A pensive ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ recalls the Nashville Sound with its dated backing vocals but lovely steel in the arrangement. Martina’s emotional vocal is one of her best performances, but this is a case where fidelity to the original version was unwise (because the strings overwhelm it towards the end).

The very authentic steel-heavy treatment of the Hank Williams classic ‘You Win Again’ is the most traditional Martina has ever been, with an arrangement identical to the original. What she does bring of her own to the performance, is a sensitive, believable vocal which works well.

Martina brings some personality to a perky ‘I’ll Be There’, backed up by Dan Tyminski and Rhonda Vincent. ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ (the third single) is confident and sassy but lightweight compared to Loretta Lynn’s original. Similarly, ‘Once A Day’ is fine, but not as good as Connie Smith’s peerless original and Martina does not convince the hearer of her emotional meltdown here. ‘Pick Me Up On Your Way Down’ and a brisk take on ‘Thanks A Lot’ also sound a bit too upbeat for the material.

‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’ isn’t bad but feels a little characterless vocally. ‘Heartaches By The Number’ is more successful, sung with great energy and characteristic harmonies from Dwight Yoakam. ‘Satin Sheets’ boasts another excellent performance from Martina.

‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’ (one of the less remembered songs today, it was a massive hit in the 50s for Hank Snow, staying at #1 for over 20 weeks) is done well, with a bright, liquid vocal and attractive melody. ‘Make The World Go Away’ is nicely done (but pales compared to the most recent version of the song by Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss).

Smoothly and sweetly sung, Buddy Holly’s ‘True Love Ways’ is rather reminiscent of some of Patsy Cline’s more sophisticated pop work from her later career; it seems rather a shame, in retrospect that Martina didn’t pick one of Patsy’s signature songs because I feel they would have suited her really well.

The European release included four bonus tracks. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ has a very pretty piano-led arrangement and gentle, melodic vocal. An understated take on ‘Crying Time’ loaded with steel is very fine indeed, and I also enjoyed Martina’s version of ‘Take These Chains From My Heart’. The cheating song ‘Walk On By’ rounds out the selection with another fine performance.

Lack of originality aside, this album features great songs sung extremely well by a very fine singer, and is well worth catching up with, but get the European release if you can for the added material.

Grade: A

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13 responses to “Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Timeless’

  1. Ben Foster January 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    It definitely sounds pretty, but I tend to think this album generally doesn’t rise above a karaoke exercise, in terms of arrangements and vocals alike. I can’t quite rationalize why folks seem inclined to praise it such, excepting the fact that it’s traditional – which is nice, but doesn’t alone make a great or even a good album. A lot of the songs (particularly “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “‘Til I Can Make It On My Own”) really lay bare McBride’s weaknesses as a lyrical interpreter – even without comparing her versions to the originals. If you listen to this album right after Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Nights, I think the difference in quality is almost embarrassing. I do like McBride’s version of “I Still Miss Someone,” though.

    Jonathan Keefe’s Slant review supplies an interesting alternate perspective on this album: http://www.slantmagazine.com/music/review/martina-mcbride-timeless/670

    • Luckyoldsun January 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      Completely agree with Mr. Foster.
      Every woman country artist did a country “classics” album around that time. Patty Loveless might have been first with her “Sleepless Nights” CD and that one was near brilliant–but Loveless is a great singer!
      A few of the women managed to come up with a basis/gimmick for their album and made it work–Roseanne Cash (Songs from Johnny Cash’s “list”); Pam Tillis (Mel Tillis songs), Reba McEntire (bombastic duets with pop stars), but the rest–Tanya Tucker, McBride, Lorrie Morgan, Terri Clark all blurred together. Oh, and LeAnn Rimes had some gimmick about songs done by men. All these women had a deep inner calling to go back to their country roots, one right after the other. Right. McBride and Clark don’t so much resurrect these classic songs as beat them into submission.

  2. Michelle January 28, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I love this album most of the songs are my favourite classic songs and Martina sings them well. I espically like “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” and “You Win Again”. I also have Tanya Tucker’s “MY Turn” it is also well done. and I look forward to hearing Terri Clark’s album as well. I never get sick of the classics.

  3. Razor X January 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I like this album a lot. it’s not as good as Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Nights, but it’s still very good. I think “Rose Garden” was selected as lead single because it was the least traditional song on the album, and perhaps the thinking was that it would be more appealing to radio. But do see your point that it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. I don’t think “I Still Miss Someone” would have been a hit no matter when it was released. It’s an excellent rendition but I don’t think it was what radio was looking for. I think not releasing “Til I Can Make It On My Own” as a single was a real missed opportunity.

  4. Leeann Ward February 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I remember liking this album a lot when it first came out, then feeling much like Ben does about it, but I’ve more recently come back to liking it a lot. I do think Patty Loveless’ covers album is superior though.

    • Ben Foster February 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      I liked the album when it first came out too, though in my case it may have been partly because I was less familiar with classic country music at that time than I am now. But to be fair, it has been a long time since I last heard this album, so maybe I’ll have to revisit it and see if I come back around to it :)

    • Occasional Hope February 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      I agree that Patty’s Sleepless Nights really was outstanding.

      • Razor X February 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        So do I. The one thing I really did not like about “Timeless” was when Martina started imitating the singing style of the original artist. This is most apparent on “Love’s Gonna Live Here” where she really deliberately pronounces words in the same distinctive style that Buck Owens did.

  5. Paul W Dennis February 3, 2013 at 5:01 am

    I like the album – it’s my favorite Martina McBride album, but that’s mostly because of the material. She does a pretty good job on most of the songs, although as others have noted, she’s not a great interpreter of lyrics. I’ve always felt she was overrated as a vocalist and I certainly agree that Patty Loveless (and Tanya Tucker, for that matter) did better cover albums.

    What I’d rather see than cover albums, is for today’s artists to include the occasional classic tune on their albums instead of insisting that albums must be newly written material , much of it with ‘newness’ being its only virtue

  6. Paul W Dennis February 3, 2013 at 5:47 am

    In case one thinks that the link that Ben Foster attached to Janathan Keefe is to a man who simply doesn’t like country singers or traditional country artists ,he’s given favorable reviews to many country albums

    Here’s a comment from Connie Smith’s LONG LINE OF HEARTACHES album released a year or so back: ” So I’ll keep this one simple: Connie Smith is the best singer in the history of country music. She may not have Patsy Cline’s tragic legacy, Martina McBride’s string of industry awards, or Carrie Underwood’s rabid Internet fanbase, but in terms of power, tone, and phrasing, there’s never been another singer who can match Smith. What makes Long Line of Heartaches, her first proper studio album since 1998, all the more remarkable is that, at age 70, Smith has lost precious little of what makes her an incomparable vocalist. “

  7. Leeann Ward February 3, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I’ll have to say that I was quite underwhelmed by Tanya Tucker’s covers album. In fact, after I’d heard it and felt that her heart wasn’t in it, I read that she didn’t even want to do a covers album, but that the label wanted her to record one, which explained a lot.

    • Paul W Dennis February 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

      I’ve read to the contrary, but regardless I pilled MY TURN off the shelf and played it about three days ago and at no point did I get the feeling that her heart wasn’t in it.

      I’ve heard a lot of albums where I felt the artist was “mailing it in” but that wasn’t the case here.

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