Released in October 2011 (part of an ongoing series of reviews covering older releases from the past year that "fell through the cracks")
Eleven is, no surprise, Martina McBride's eleventh studio album and had its work cut out for it to top her previous release, 2009's Shine, which ended up on my "best albums" list for that year. What I had heard from McBride before that really hadn't left an impression, making the discovery of such a top-to-bottom fine collection of songs such an unexpected, pleasant surprise. After dipping into three albums from her back catalog and failing to find anything that remotely resonated with me as much as Shine, I was very curious as to how Eleven would go down.
The album is quite light on tracks you'd classify as "peppy"; of those, the concert-ready "One Night" and "Broken Umbrella" stand out, while lead single "Teenage Daughters" can't translate its sugary melodies into a satisfying song, although mothers of said offspring will likely be able to appreciate the tongue-in-cheek exasperation expressed in McBride's lyrics. A couple of below average tracks fall into the "mid tempo" category: "You Can Get Your Lovin' Right Here" shows off the singer's sexier, more soulful side and, as McBride writes in the album's liner notes, "Always Be This Way" was inspired by songs like Train's monster hit "Hey, Soul Sister" and the reggae-lite pop style of the awful Jason Mraz. Train factors into Shine's best track, a cover of their moderate hit from 2010, "Marry Me". The gentle ballad, anchored by acoustic guitar and light percussion, features Train singer Patrick Monahan duetting with McBride, and it's an unexpected and creatively inspired decision to refrain from having them sing together until the song's end, where their voices mesh beautifully. That separate-and-then-together vocal arrangement, intentionally or unintentionally, endows the song with an added poignancy by functioning as a hopeful metaphor for the song's lyrics, which tells the story of two smitten characters envisioning a happily ever after life with each other, even though they've never spoken to one another. Shine's slower songs are its strength, as evidenced by "Summer Of Love" (featuring some nice mandolin accompaniment), another acoustic guitar ballad titled "Long Distance Lullaby", and the power ballad "I'm Gonna Love You Through It". The latter's title might suggest Hallmark card sappiness, and a closer look at the song reveals lyrics that might not always be terribly profound while championing the strength found in friends and family for someone battling cancer (example: "When you're weak, I'll be strong/When you let go, I'll hold on/When you need to cry, I swear that I'll be there to dry your eyes"), but it's still a moving (and catchy) track.
McBride gets labelled and marketed as a country performer, but there's actually as much of a 60s-era soul flavour to her songs on Shine as there is country, with the dominant sound being that of adult contemporary pop. She's a powerhouse vocal talent, where the showier aspects of her instrument are used judiciously, rather than overwhelming the listener with vocal histrionics, and it's that remarkable voice that elevates the solid Eleven a notch or two above what most singers could have delivered with the material.