Martina McBride is one of country music's brightest and biggest-selling stars, possessed of powerful vocal chops and an uncanny ability to relate to her audience. She is also at that stage of her career where she can look back at her musical lineage and fully grasp the simple yet profound texts that inform some of the genre's best material.
It is rare and refreshing to come across a popular artist with a sense of history, someone who has a genuine feel for the roots of their craft and an understanding of the process that takes it from then to now. That, in a nutshell, is what made Martina McBride's concert on Friday night such a joy.
She explored the music of her earliest memories and meshed it with her own, more recent catalog of hits, creating a two-part show that left her audience delirious with joy.
When she sings Hank Williams' "You Win Again," Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" or Ray Price's "Heartaches By the Number," the sense of love lost, gained and lost again is palpable.
Loretta Lynn's cautionary tale "You Ain't Woman Enough" is delivered with just the right edge, an understated ferocity that virtually guarantees somebody gettin' into a world of pain (and it ain't the singer), while Kris Kristofferson's incredibly literate "Help Me Make It Through the Night" may be the best-written piece to ever combine intense pain with a well-crafted pickup line.
Certainly McBride managed to bring all of these songs from the last half of the last century into stunning focus, telling stories that gave the tunes a sense of place in her life and, by inference, in the lives of her listeners, but she also delivered some of her own hits in the second half of the show.
It was rowdy, uptempo songs like "When God-Fearing Women Get the Blues," "Happy Girl," "Wild Angels," "My Baby Loves Me" and "Love's the Only House" that brought the focus back to McBride's own career as a hit maker and put the audience into a charged up, sing-along mood. Then, with an evenhanded sense of pacing, she went into more reflective material like "Valentine" and "A Broken Wing" that tugged at the heartstrings.
McBride was aided by a talented seven-piece band and, during the first half of the concert, a slide show that helped focus the audience's attention on the Hall of Fame singers and songwriters who helped create a direction for country music.
People who arrived at the concert just in time to catch the first part of McBride's show missed the opening act, the Warren Brothers. That's too bad, because these guys are awfully entertaining.
The duo had some media exposure over the past couple of years, but they are probably best known for their Country Music TV reality show, "Barely Famous." Still, they've made inroads on a career by writing songs for Tim McGraw ("Blank Sheet of Paper") and Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Red, White and Blue"), and their take on their roots as a bar band ("Sell a Lot of Beer") is a potential classic of its kind.
With the Warren Brothers on Friday night in HSBC Arena.