After establishing herself as one of country music’s top female artists, Martina McBride decided to pay homage to the classic country music on which she was raised.
Her new RCA album, “Timeless,” contains covers of 18 well-loved classics. The CD, which hits stores Oct. 18, includes such chestnuts as Jeanne Pruett’s “Satin Sheets,” Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” Connie Smith’s “Once a Day” and Lynn Anderson’s “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden.” The latter is the project’s first single and is No. 26 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
McBride is a proven hitmaker at country radio: Since her first RCA release in 1992, she has landed 18 top 10 hits on Hot Country Songs, including five No. 1s.
Still, some believe an all-covers album can be a tricky move even for such an established artist as McBride. For her part, she says she never considered the business side of the equation when making the album, focusing exclusively on the music.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen with it,” she admits. “I have no idea if it’s going to be commercially successful or not, but I wasn’t really concerned with that, which was a freeing feeling.”
“Timeless” is McBride’s eighth studio album. She also released a greatest-hits set in 2001 that has sold 2.7 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
McBride enlisted Dwight Yoakam to sing harmony vocals on “Heartaches by the Number,” originally a hit for Ray Price and for Guy Mitchell, both in 1959. She also recruited Dolly Parton to duet on Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone.”
The album’s songs date back as far as 1951. The newest song McBride recorded for the project was Tammy Wynette’s 1976 hit “Til I Can Make It on My Own.”
“I don’t feel like I’m setting out to do any heroic preservation,” McBride says of the project. “I just love this music… I did songs that felt like home to me.”
In her first outing as sole producer on one of her albums, McBride hired only musicians who felt as passionately about the classic songs as she did. “I didn’t want somebody that was just a hired gun on a session,” she says. They included her longtime producer Paul Worley (also chief creative officer at Warner Bros. Records), who was relegated to the role of guitarist this time.
McBride says Worley “taught me everything I know about making records” during the albums they previously made together. “He’s a mentor to me in the truest sense of the word.” But, she says, “I felt like it was time to make a record on my own. It was time to graduate.”
Rather than going into the recording process with a long list of songs in mind, McBride and the musicians spent a lot of time noodling around in the studio trying things out that McBride or one of the musicians would suggest.
Once they decided to record something, they started each session by spinning a copy of the original recording, and sometimes other versions when the song had been a hit for multiple artists. Then, they would create what McBride calls a “blueprint” for the song, “always paying respect to the original,” she says.
“These aren’t my songs,” McBride explains. “My intention wasn’t to make them Martina McBride songs.”
McBride, the reigning Country Music Association female vocalist of the year, cut 24 tracks, then had to narrow the field to 18 for the final CD. But most of the remaining songs will not go to waste. Four are included as bonus tracks on a custom version of the project available through Target stores.
Additionally, an exclusive limited-edition album for Wal-Mart features a 30-minute DVD chronicling the making of “Timeless.”
On Oct. 22, McBride, a member of the Grand Ole Opry for 10 years, will be the first artist given a full hour of performance time on an Opry broadcast. The special show, to air on GAC, will feature McBride performing the “Timeless” songs with other Opry members and guests, including some of the songs’ original artists. Price is among those confirmed to participate
Excerpted from the Oct. 22, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
For information about ordering a copy of the issue, click here.