* * * 1/2
IF you don't follow country music, this delightful CD should be a double treat. First, it introduces you to McBride, who hasn't received the pop exposure of Faith Hill or Shania Twain, though she is a more heartfelt country singer than either. Second, the album showcases the character and range of classic country songwriting.
Even McBride would tell you these aren't the definitive versions of most of these songs, though she does them all justice (except maybe for some histrionics on Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You"), and sometimes even equals or surpasses the originals -- notably on her treatments of such upbeat numbers as Joe South's "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" and Harlan Howard's "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down."
As a bonus, the song selection helps you see how the Hank Williams heartbreak tradition in country music has been updated by a series of excellent songwriters, including Gibson, Merle Haggard ("Today I Started Loving You Again") and Kris Kristofferson ("Help Me Make It Through the Night").
McBride, who also produced the album and kept the arrangements in a traditional country vein, picked songs that obviously meant something to her, not just the 18 most popular country tunes. That led to such surprising but smart choices as Buddy Holly and Norman Petty's pop-rock hit "True Love Ways" and Jack Rollins and Don Robertson's overlooked "I Don't Hurt Anymore."
Musicians tend to get mushy in liner notes, but veteran country star Buck Owens has it right when he declares about McBride's performance in the album, "Our kind of music, present and future, is in good hands."
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.