I write a lot about the gear that we use to listen to music, but a chance of pace focusing on the music itself once in a while doesn’t hurt. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, so I’m still figuring out a format, but I do think I might write more of these in the future. Perhaps this can also lend some more context to the type of music I enjoy and the qualities of sound that I’m looking for a transducer to replicate.
Martina McBride doesn’t seem to be as active these days, but she was one of the most well-known female country artists in the 2000s. Her music is distinctive for exploring more sensitive topics that country music doesn’t seem to be as keen on touching these days amidst the cacophony that is beer, girls, and trucks. In this vein, a glance at some of her older works such as “Concrete Angel” (2002) and “God’s Will” (2004) depict commentaries on child abuse and being born with a disability respectively.
But the subject of my thoughts today is McBride’s latest hit to date, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” (2011). It tells the story of a mother and her battle with breast cancer. The production starts off slowly with guitar plucks, some piano, and what sounds like a violin crescendoing in the back, effectively capturing the sobriety of the situation; the narrator has just received the diagnosis. The writing is succinct but fleshes out the narrator satisfactorily: mother of three, 38 years of age, and with a caring husband. Despite the specificity of the lyrics, I appreciate that the narrator extends the possibility of cancer to anyone with the lines, “cancer don’t discriminate or care if you’re just 38, with three kids who need you in their lives” while efficiently integrating the aforementioned characterization details.
The cadence of the song picks up moving into the chorus which is, in essence, her husband lending her his support. It follows a basic “when you’re…I’ll be there” anaphora structure that’s easy to get stuck in the head. This is aided by a drum and some cymbals kicking in and McBride showing off her voice. McBride’s never had the greatest range – she’s a mezzo soprano, after all – but she’s a vocalist that is simply exceptional at propelling emotion and making it feel palpable. Perhaps this impression can be partly attributed to the mastering work. I do feel like there’s a strong sense of micro-dynamics (minuscule shifts in volume) on this track in terms of her vocal inflections and texture. In any case, she certainly has that vibrancy to the timbre of her voice that I associate with the most emotional singers.
Moving back to the lyrical content, the surgery goes well and the narrator survives, but she is plagued by insecurities: “Now it’s forced smiles and baggy shirts, To hide what the cancer took from her”. Again, it’s the realism of the lyrics that appeals to me. The lyrics assert that it’s not all sunshine and daisies even after she survives the cancer; they don’t sugar-coat it. Her womanhood has been called into question and she finds herself wondering whether she “can do this anymore”. Her husband, in turn, reassures her that he’s still by her side and then there’s another chorus. I think what I appreciate most here is that her husband is just a genuinely good guy. He’s doing what a good husband should do, but he doesn’t detract from the situation she is facing, detract from her insecurities, or sound patronizing despite the cliche nature of the chorus. Of course, to this end, there are definitely some other cliches in the writing. I’m specifically referencing the whole being a mom thing; however, in this instance, I do think it tastefully enhances the impact of the track via the implications of if she doesn’t make it.
The production on “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is also quite solid. First, that violin works wonders considering it’s an instrument you don’t hear often in country music. Moving on from the opening, it’s generally oscillating to match the pace of the track, further facilitating a couple of very nice, dramatic build-ups that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. There’s also some steel guitar thrown into the mix that can sound a little disjoint at times (particularly at 2:42), but it gives the track that 2000s sound that I really adore. Writing-wise, as I alluded to above, there’s little to complain about even if there are some common tropes present. The writing effectively conveys an uplifting message for women who are going through breast cancer, as well as their loved ones. In any case, I think “genuine with some flare” is the description that comes to mind when describing the production of this track; it possesses a sense of depth balanced with thrilling-ness that a lot of contemporary country music is missing.
This is unmistakably the most upbeat song of the three from McBride I’ve listed. Both “Concrete Angel” and “God’s Will” are paced more slowly and their endings are indescribably sobering; perhaps for this reason alone, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” is my favorite song from McBride. Yes, it might be the weakest in terms of writing and I’m a no-good-contrarian, but I’m still a sucker for these types of songs. I didn’t understand them as a kid (honestly, 10-year old me probably thought the other two were rather boring), but these days they’re wrenching enough that I can only listen to her work every once in a while. Definitely give some of McBride’s songs a listen if you don’t mind the subsequent waterworks; few songs invoke as much emotion for me as the ones I’ve heard from this artist.