The Way That I Am

by: Martina McBride

While Martina McBride's blend of traditional country and progressive folk styles -- along with her powerful, remarkable voice -- got country audiences to sit up and take notice in 1992, it was The Way That I Am, and most notably its Gretchen Peters-penned single "Independence Day," that blew minds. While the song itself -- told from the point of view of a surviving daughter of an alcoholic wife-beater and an abused, long-suffering wife and mother -- ends in a tragedy of suicide and death, it is nonetheless a redemptive song that makes no moral judgments yet asks real questions about what "independence" actually means. Set on the Fourth of July, it pointedly asks, Does Independence Day mean independence for everyone or does it mean making the choice to free yourself from your bonds, no matter how horrific the consequences? Is it a choice made independent of society, morals, and cultural and religious mores because of the depth of one's convictions? McBride delivers the story with a tough, matter-of-fact, barely concealed rage, and yet that gives way to a transcendence in the refrain so stirring and shatteringly moving it was used in the aftermath of September 11th (even if it was taken out of context in the same way that Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was). It was an instant classic and remains one over a decade later. It's the kind of troubling song you cannot immediately -- or perhaps ever -- fathom. The listener is carried into the heart of the contradiction of a day of celebration and raw horror inside a tune so seductive and catchy it feels at odds with its lyric, yet comes together on the refrain only to split again into more fragments than can be counted. When McBride declares, "Now I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong/Maybe it's the only way/Talk about your revolution/It's independence day," the entire world inside the song comes apart, and you are left wondering who the right, wrong, and guilty are in the refrain, and you have to make out your own point of consideration regarding a "day of reckoning." There are no answers, just facts, questions, and ciphers. The single could have sold the album alone, but the other nine tracks here are quality as well. From the opener, "Heart Trouble," to "She Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," to the closer, "Ashes," the feel on the album, set by the completely modern country-pop sound of the single, is up-tempo, glossier, and more streamlined in its focus than her debut, but that's fine because McBride proves herself capable of delivering any kind of song in the end. There isn't a weak track in the bunch, and despite the more modern, less traditional sound, it makes little difference because McBride is a singer's singer: tough, true, and in full control of her gift. ~ Thom Jurek

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