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Martina McBride 

Friday, February 3, at Wolstein Center.

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When Martina McBride got her first national exposure, opening for Garth Brooks in the early '90s, the comely Kansas farm girl got by mostly on sympathy points. Though she unleashed a surprisingly powerful voice from her petite frame, she was still just a mild side dish overpowered by the juicy, corn-bred taste of Brooks' grade-A pop-country ham.

But as it turned out, McBride benefited from the suburban markets that Brooks' success opened. Propelled by McBride's ability to belt as high and clear as Celine Dion, rocking pop-country anthems like "Independence Day" -- about a mom and daughter's rebellion against the abusive man of the house -- hit the top of the charts, turning McBride into a staple among soccer moms and their young daughters.

Ten million album sales later, McBride in her 40th year has brought it down a notch, finding new and relatively low-key ways to nurse her niche. Besides giving birth to her third daughter in 2005, she also scored a surprise hit with a Hallmark-released Valentine's Day EP, earned her own celebrity Barbie doll, and released the platinum-plus Timeless, a self-produced collection of country standards that ranged from classic Hank Williams to "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." Though here and there she pushes the tempo too hard or plays up the novelty factor with retro backup singers, the nearly hour-long set mostly goes down straight and smooth, and it should spice up this tour with flavors that many soccer moms never even knew they had in their country kitchens.

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