Eleven is aptly titled: it's Martina McBride's 11th album, contains 11 songs, and is her debut for Republic Nashville. McBride co-wrote over half the album and co-produced it with Byron Gallimore. Her husband, John McBride, engineered, mixed, and offered excellent creative advice. "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," the album's well-known single, deals with surviving the ordeal of breast cancer. It's a socially conscious anthem of the type that McBride has recorded throughout her career, and although it's typically inspiring and beautifully performed, it doesn't really reflect the album as a whole; "One Night," the celebratory opening number with ringing electric guitars, fat drums, and her soaring voice, is a stellar pop/rock jaunt and offers a real clue. "Marry Me," a cover of a Train song, features their lead vocalist (and the song's author) Pat Monahan in a guest duet that shifts the song's meaning from a lone lover's question to a couple's affirmation. "Always Be This Way," with its acoustic guitars, Wurlitzer, and ukulele, has a reggae backbeat carrying an irresistible hook; its natural groove is tight. "Broken Umbrella" is retro, with a Wurlitzer, horns, and a hip, old-school drum sound; it could have been sung by Dusty Springfield. "You Can Get Your Lovin' Right Here" is a strutting, funky, sultry tune with horns and a beautiful B-3 line underscoring its nod to Southern soul inside a pop arrangement. "Watcha Gonna Do" feels like McBride is fronting with a country band backed by Booker T. & the MG's. Its midtempo, deeply emotional groove underscores the protagonist's independence and backbone in telling her lover to step up his game or leave. "Teenage Daughters," the second single, is a nod to contemporary country radio but cracks open and rocks hard from the middle on out. "Summer of Love" will appeal to country audiences, but it's actually a skillfully performed pop song. "When You Love a Sinner" is the only actual country song on the album; it acknowledges McBride's roots without nostalgia or pandering. "Long Distance Lullaby" is a gorgeously arranged, string-laden ballad about loneliness, experienced as physical distance between the road-traveling protagonist and her family. Eleven is an extremely classy record by a stellar vocalist and capable songwriter. It proves McBride has plenty to offer an entirely new audience, and showcases her transition from country singer to skillful performer of elegant, hooky, adult contemporary, pop/rock music. Eleven is a new beginning for, not a summation of, McBride's career.
by Thom Jurek