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Shine on brightly 

Martina McBride trades some twang for pop hooks on her latest album

Martina McBride is no stranger to success, having turned out hit country singles and albums for much of her recording career spanning more than 15 years. But she began to realize her recently released album, Shine, was something different when she got some early feedback from her father.

McBride says that when she played her dad the rough mixes, he told her that some of her songs are the kind that "you have to live with" for a while, but that these new ones sounded more commercial and a little more carefree.

And it's true: Shine isn't particularly traditional or twangy. In fact, it may well be the most commercial album of McBride's career. So it makes sense that the singer from Sharon, Kan., is feeling a sense of renewal in regard to her music, her career and her life in general these days.

McBride, who has coached contestants on American Idol and has been labeled the "Céline Dion of country music" (this despite the fact that McBride doesn't thump her chest while performing), readily admits that she hit a wall creatively with the 2003 album, Martina. And if 2007's Waking Up Laughing offered new signs of life, Shine sounds like the work of a fully revitalized artist.

She credits part of the new energy to teaming with producer Dann Huff, who helped bring a more commercial dimension to the record.

"He has a way of listening for a hook," says McBride. "If a song doesn't have a really strong melodic hook, he's not real interested in it."

That melodic dimension is readily apparent throughout the album, including on ballads like "Walk Away" and "I Just Call You Mine." But the biggest musical surprise is the presence of several highly catchy rockers, a notable development considering McBride has primarily been known for ballads and mid-tempo songs.

The best of the rockers is "Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong," the feisty album-opening track that sounds like a sure-fire hit single.

"It's funny because I have that aspect to my personality and to my musical tastes," McBride says. "And my live show rocks a lot harder than my records. Dann helped draw that out of me on this record."

The sense of revitalization McBride is feeling goes beyond just her music. A married mother of three daughters, McBride's two oldest girls are now in high school and middle school, and with them growing more independent and self-sufficient, she's had more time and energy to devote to her career.

"I feel like there's so much to accomplish," she says. "The touring part of my career obviously is growing still, and I'm excited about that. This is really only the second or third tour that I've headlined, so there's lots of room [to grow] there."

The current Shine All Night Tour is an extended run of dates with Trace Adkins. McBride feels the pairing makes sense both musically and in terms of the fans the two artists draw.

"Our music is different in many ways," she says, "but it's also a lot alike in a lot of ways. We both have songs about social issues and about family, so I think it's a great match."

scene@csindy.com

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