WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) -- Martina McBride's latest release has returned her to a familiar place the top of the charts.
"Shine" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard's country album chart this week, and it also debuted at No. 10 on the overall album chart. But for McBride, the success of the album isn't just commercial. She spent the last few years been expanding her skill sets, with more songwriting and production credits.
"You know, when I was making this record, it felt like, 'Ah! Here's what I've been looking for,'" McBride said while promoting the CD earlier this week. "We did the last couple albums kind of searching and finding, trying to find new inspiration and keep things moving forward. You know, it's always been important for me to just not make the same record over and over again. Yeah, this record felt like, 'Well, here it is.'"
With production by Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts), there are power-pop hooks galore and a new, harder edge shades of country's two top current acts, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.
But McBride, 42, seemed uncomfortable with the suggestion her new sound was influenced by the relative newcomers.
"I don't think this record is a reaction, sound-wise, to what's going on right now," she explained. "I'm using a new producer, Dann Huff, who has a lot of pop influences. That just sort of came out."
Huff also seems to have brought out the singer's vulnerable side, especially with the CD's showstopper, "I Just Call You Mine."
It's not the kind of song that I would normally be drawn to," McBride said. "I'm a little bit leery of what I call, 'sappy love songs' you know, songs that go, 'I can't live without you, I'm nothing without you.' I kind of shy away from that lyric for some reason. ... But this song, I just kind of got over that, because I thought, 'You know what? I do have somebody I can sing this about' and I think everybody wants a song like this that they can feel this when they sing it or hear it."
Yet it's not a lyric that the notoriously independent McBride would likely write herself.
"Probably not," she replied, with a laugh.
McBride, who has been married to sound engineer John McBride for 20 years, recently agreed to an interview with the leading gay magazine Out a rare thing for an artist in the country genre; its fans and artists tend to be more conservative.
"It was an opportunity to talk to my fans, my gay fans, which I do have a lot, which I'm very grateful for," McBride said. "And it was an opportunity for me to talk about tolerance and acceptance and all that kind of thing. I mean, I didn't worry about any kind of backlash. I'm just who I am."
There's good reason that McBride's signature song is, debatably, the empowerment anthem, "This One's For the Girls."
"Sometimes it's hard to stay true to yourself and to stick to your guns and say, 'I will do this. I won't do this. I don't like to do this. This is me. This is not me,'" McBride said. "And, so, it took people a little of getting used to my straight-fowardness and the way I kind of really know myself."
For the last couple years, Underwood and Swift have dominated country music, but now McBride may be reclaiming her role as country music's queen.
"I don't know that I've ever been called that," McBride replied, with a huge smile. "It's fantastic. I don't know that I feel that I deserve that. But I'll take it."
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