NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Martina McBride started looking for material for her next album, she turned to the great soul singers Aretha Franklin and Etta James for inspiration. The country singer, known for her huge soprano voice, is self-releasing "Everlasting" on April 8, an album of classic soul and R&B songs made famous by the likes of Franklin and James, and Elvis and Van Morrison.
"It seemed interesting," she said. "And as a singer, really challenging and fun, too, to push my boundaries a little bit and tackle some of these classic songs and performances."
McBride often performs cover songs, everything from traditional country standards to 1980s rock. But she found that the soul songs her parents listened to at home aren't that different from the songs she made her career on.
"In a way this music is so similar to country music in that it just has emotion and soul," McBride said. "That's what I look for when I look for my own songs, something I can sing with a lot of emotion. There's a heartbeat to this music."
She recorded with Don Was, the prolific Detroit producer who has worked with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, at Blackbird Studio in Nashville.
"We didn't necessarily have every song buttoned up before we went into the studio, which I love, because I love the spontaneity of recording something kind of spur of the moment," said McBride, who recorded with a very small band.
On some of the songs, Motown-style horn sections and background vocals were added as tribute to the original recordings. On others, she puts her own mark on the songs. On her version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," McBride sings along to a simple guitar track instead of the swelling horns in Otis Redding's song.
"Like the song is so intimate, I picture the song as two people alone in a bedroom, you know, talking about a pivotal moment in their relationship," she said. "And so my instinct told me that it should be kind of quiet and intimate, like you're listening in on a conversation."
McBride also knows how to make a covers album successful. "Timeless," her 2005 country cover songs album, went platinum and was one of the fastest-selling albums of her career.
"It's an instinct thing," she said. "You don't want to make a karaoke record. You don't want it to sound exactly like the original and then you don't also want to make it so different that it's unrecognizable because these songs are sacred to a lot of people."