THE GREATEST TIME

While proud of her many hits and platinum albums, Martina McBride wasn't quite ready for a greatest-hits album.

Story by Wendy Newcomer

"It felt weird," reveals the modest singer. "At first I was not into it because it's such a milestone. But then I thought, 'We really have amassed enough hits. It feels like the right time to move between what we've done in the past and what the future holds.' "

Martina's just-released Greatest Hits - with 14 smash songs and four new ones - is truly a bridge between the past and the future. Ten years ago she was signed to RCA. She released her debut single, "The Time Has Come," in 1992. It was a modest hit, just shy of Top 20. Its two follow-up singles, "That's Me" and "Cheap Whiskey," struggled to climb into the 40s.

"People ask me if I've reflected on the past," declares Martina, relaxing in a Music Row office. "It's amazing that we have had so many hits. But I've also realized we've released a lot of songs that were not hits. A lot," she emphasizes with a laugh.

"But that was a blessing in disguise," she adds. "It was frustrating to put out a single and not have it work. Yet what it's allowed me to do is be here 10 years later and still have people interested in what I do next. People aren't 'over' me."

With her sophomore release, The Way That I Am, people were just getting into Martina. So it's fitting that her new greatest-hits package begins with the first single from that album, "My Baby Loves Me."

"I feel like things started with 'My Baby Loves Me,' " she says of the feisty 1993 "attitude" song that stopped just short of the top spot. "I remember the reaction to the video was really big, too," adds Martina, who used the video to unveil a short new haircut.

Greatest Hits would not be complete without 1994's "Independence Day," a song that only made it to No. 12 on the charts, but had a greater impact than most No. 1s.

" 'Independence Day' was such a turning point," recalls Martina. "It was monumental in my career. When we recorded it, everybody thought it was a great song. But I certainly didn't foresee it being my 'career song' 10 years later. I just knew it was special.

"There were so many times I'd walk on the bus after a show and think, 'Thank God for "Independence Day!" ' It gave me a career, and maybe was part of the reason why I was able to have some of the 'misses' I had. It established me as an artist in Nashville and also with radio and the fans."

In 1999, she recorded "I Love You," featured on the soundtrack for the movie Runaway Bride and also included on her Emotion album. It captured the No. 1 spot for five weeks.

"Very rarely do I find a song and say, 'That's a hit.' But that one just jumped off the demo," she says. "My co-producer, Paul Worley, and my husband, John, and I knew that song was a hit. Also, I performed it the year I won the CMA Female Vocalist award, so hearing it now brings back that memory. Every time I sing it or hear it, I'm taken right back to that night, which is really sweet."

One of the four new songs on Greatest Hits is Martina's current single, the bluesy "When God-Fearin' Women Get The Blues." Martina recalls her 6-year-old daughter's reaction to the song.

"We were playing it in the car on the way to the mall," she says. "Delaney said to me, 'Mom, that's the best Martina McBride song you've ever done!' " She smiles. "I thought that was so cute because she put 'mom' at the first of the sentence. She really differentiated between her 'mom' and 'Martina McBride.' "

When it comes to Delaney and her sister, 3-year-old Emma, Martina seems to have found the perfect balance between family and career - and she attributes much of that balance to her husband.

"John and I have always been a team in every aspect of our lives," notes Martina. "It's gotten easier over the years as we've grown and matured together. He's always been my partner."

Martina brushes a lock of hair from her eyes. It's the first time she's let her hair grow long since back in the days of her debut album. Does she like it?

"Not really," she admits, laughing. "I was off the road and in Nashville for all of the school year and it just grew. I'm really looking forward to cutting it again. So when people say, 'I love your hair long, I'm glad you grew it out,' I say, 'Don't get too used to it. Don't forget that I've had short hair for eight and a half years. And it will go back to short.'

"I enjoy changing my look," she admits. "There are times when long hair makes me feel more feminine, which is nice. But basically, I think short hair has always felt more like me. And I think it's more flattering."

One thing that will never change is Martina's musical drive. She recently wrapped up the Girls' Night Out Tour with Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Jamie O'Neal and Carolyn Dawn Johnson.

"It was the most fun I've ever had on tour," declares Martina. "All of us were in complete awe of Reba. We looked at each other and said, 'Can you believe it? We're really hanging out with Reba McEntire!' "

This winter will find Martina back in the studio, working on the follow-up to her greatest-hits CD. And she'll likely be at PTA meetings and hanging out at home - cleaning her closet and "puttering around the house." It's a dual lifestyle she hopes to maintain for a long time.

"If I can put my family first - have my cake and eat it, too - I'd love to do this for another 10 years," she says. "Absolutely!"

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