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McBride's grace sets her apart Proves she's worthy of top spot in realm of pop-country music

Before a sold-out crowd Friday night in the Seneca Niagara Events Center, Martina McBride employed her soaring soprano, six-piece band and the most enduring element of the evening -- grace -- in making a convincing case for her place as the definitive voice of pop-country music.

In balancing between modern music sheen and old-school honky-tonk, McBride revealed her grace from the get-go with the mass-appeal pure pop of "One Night" and the country caveat "When God-Fearin' Women Get the Blues," the latter complete with fiddle and guitar solos and lyrics referencing whiskey, guns and gravy, following with the sweet spot in the middle that scored her first of six number-one hits in "Wild Angels."

McBride gracefully greeted front-row fans and upon being told one was celebrating their birthday, asked the woman's name twice to get it right and led the band and crowd in singing "Happy Birthday." She then declared before "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," from her upcoming album, "Eleven.":

"I feel like this song can inspire; lift someone up; give someone hope. That's what I wanna do."

That sincerity set the tone for her to soar and soothe with the overflowing emotion she always employs, carrying the tender ballad about living and loving with cancer that -- if this crowd's rousing response is any indication -- is well on its way to becoming McBride's next number-one hit. The song speaks to not only a disturbingly growing number of Americans inflicted with cancer, but to the heart of what country music is founded on and where its commercial line has been headed for decades -- story songs sung simply to resonate with the common ear, appealing far beyond hayrides and hoedowns and into the heart of the modern mainstream consumer.

Hardcore country fans have a great cause for crying a tear in their beer over the abundance of watered-down schlock being peddled to the masses, but songs like "I'm Gonna Love You Through It" are proof that pop music has benefited from the country credo of "three chords and the truth."

Hardcore country fans could take a stand on the topic of McBride's phantom pedal steel player -- many songs in the set offered that glorious sound, but the actual instrument was nowhere to be found.

She spoke of motherhood in introducing her entry into songwriting with the ballad "In My Daughter's Eyes" and another new number in "Teenage Daughters," which is every bit Merle Haggard as it is new Nashville mom rock. Heck, she was even graceful playing a harmonica on the deep "Love's the Only House" and that ain't easy to do, although the riff itself was.

McBride claimed to be going off-script to deliver a personal favorite in "From the Ashes," showing the crowd gratitude as she thanked them afterward for being such a great listening audience throughout the show.

> CONCERT REVIEW

Martina McBride

Friday evening in the Seneca Niagara Casino Events Center, Niagara Falls.

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