American country music star Martina McBride has no regrets about stepping away from country for her new covers album, Everlasting.
"It's a record that I wanted to make for a long time," she says from her home in Nashville, Tennessee. "I decided to go back to my past and to balance my love of soul and R&B with my country roots."
On her 12th album, the 47-year-old country songbird, who got her start opening for Garth Brooks in the 90s and is best known for hits such as I'm Gonna Love You Through It and This One's For the Girls, has selected classic songs from the Motown, Stax and Philly soul songbooks, as well as numbers made famous by Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley and Van Morrison.
"I've always loved soulful music and it just made sense for me to explore that a little," McBride says.
"Some of these songs were country hits as well. So to me this record doesn't sound as though I've strayed too far from home base."
She spent seven months looking for songs for the album. "There were thousands of wonderful songs to choose from but at the end of the day it came down to what I could sing best. My approach was to sound just like myself and not to put on any imitation soul or blues voice."
Everlasting is McBride's fifth album to top the US country charts and is her first release since Eleven in 2011.
"You just never know what's going to happen," says the multiple winner of the Country Music Association's female vocalist of the year award. "This one was a bit different for me so you can never take public acceptance for granted."
On the album she is joined by 2002 American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson singing the Etta James' ballad In The Basement and up-and-coming singer and actor Gavin DeGraw on Sam Cooke's soul classic Bring It On Home To Me. Grammy Award-winning producer and Blue Note Records president Don Was (John Mayer, Van Morrison, Aaron Neville) has framed the songs in tasteful arrangements that don't stray far from the originals.
"Working with Don was a dream come true," McBride says. "He helped me focus on how to do these songs and interpret them in a way that is faithful to the original but still make them mine."
Martina's husband John McBride is the head of Nashville's famed Blackbird Studio where the album was recorded. The sprawling studio complex comprises nine different recording spaces. Everyone from Jon Bon Jovi to the Kings of Leon has recorded there. Sydney band Boy & Bear recorded their debut album Moonfire in the studios.
Popular Australian singer-songwriter Dan Sultan, who next month embarks on a two-month tour of Australia, recorded his recently released third album, Blackbird, at the famous Nashville studio. He was so impressed with in-house producer Jacquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones) and the analogue equipment he decided to name the album after the studio.
"You're in Blackbird Studio," he says. "People like Neil Young and Buddy Guy record there, my heroes . . . the vibes within the walls were very empowering."
McBride plays a hands-on role in running the studio with her husband, who engineered the album's tracks.
"Blackbird Studios are so busy it's hard to keep up with who is booked in at any one time," she explains. "Stevie Nicks is there at the moment recording her new album. And Keith Urban has recorded a lot of his music there."
It's clear from McBride's comments that she believes Nashville's reputation as the "yee-haa" country music capital has changed over the years.
"Nashville has the best music scene in America," she says. "It's such an exciting time to be creative in this town. Everybody wants to come here now because there's such a great community of musicians and writers."