Of all contemporary country singers, Martina McBride seems the most well-suited to interpret classic soul tunes. The four-time Country Music Association female vocalist of the year has shown repeatedly that she can wail with sass and find the depth in emotionally complex material.
Still, on her new album, "Everlasting," McBride begs comparison with such giants as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke by taking on their most potent performances and material. Working with producer Don Was, who brings an understated R&B pulse to the songs, McBride leans on vulnerability and purity of tone rather than the growling, rapturous release of the originals.
McBride presents several impressive performances, turning Little Walter's "My Babe" into a funky, sexy love song and Fred Neil's "Little Bit Of Rain" into a tender treatise on separation that lightens the dark tones of versions by Linda Ronstadt and Karen Dalton.
That said, these takes lack the fierceness of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" or the ecstatic joy of Van Morrison's "Wild Night" and Diana Ross on The Supremes' "Come See About Me."
McBride offers up pleasantly listenable versions of baby boomer standards on "Everlasting," an album that will please her fans and spice up her concerts but won't replace any of the originals on the mixtapes of R&B fans.