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Country star Martina McBride talks unleashing love and improving dinner

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Martina McBride plays Route 91 Harvest Festival on Saturday.
Annie Zaleski

This weekend, Martina McBride will perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The country star called in from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to talk about latest album Reckless, what it meant to be included in a CMA Awards anniversary video and whether she has plans to follow up her wildly successful recipe book, Around the Table: Recipes and Inspiration for Gatherings Throughout the Year.

You were recently in Vegas to play the sneak peek of the T-Mobile Arena. I know you like food. Were you able to do any restaurant exploring while there? Unfortunately, it’s kind of a trip in and out when we go there. I really want to spend a few days, see some shows and explore some restaurants. We did a private show in July, right after my birthday, and ate at Craftsteak with my band and crew. That was fun.

As you were approaching making your recent album Reckless, what did you want to achieve? I wanted to make a record that was relatable, that talks about real life. I had a lot of time to make this record; I really wasn’t on a deadline. I feel like the songs we found are an amazing collection. We got about halfway into it, and it started sounding like some of my older records. It felt more like late-’90s country, which was a cool surprise. I didn’t really go into it with that idea. It sounds really familiar to my fans, but also fresh. It’s like the 2016 version of [1997 album] Evolution or something.

Why do you think it ended up turning out like that? I had a couple of songs on this record I had wanted to record for six or seven years, and I think country songwriting has changed a lot in the past seven or eight years. Some of these songs were written in a different era, so they have that sort of flavor. For me, it was great to get back to that style of songwriting.

What did co-producers Nathan Chapman and Dann Huff bring to the record? They’re both really talented musicians and singers, so they played a lot on the record, and Nathan sang a lot on the record. Dann’s kind of meticulous, and Nathan’s a little more off-the-cuff, let’s-see-what-happens, so they complement each other in the studio. It was so much fun. I’ve worked with Dann before on a whole album and had written some with Nathan, but I had never really worked with him in the studio. They’re funny. It was just a joy to make this record.

As a vocalist, did you take anything away from the experience of making 2014 soul/rock covers album Everlasting? I don’t know specifically if it affected my approach. Having that freedom to make that record, and tour with it for a couple of years and really get to experience that whole thing, you get away from the mainstream country thing, or wheel, or whatever you want to call it. (laughs) I missed it. I was ready to come back and make a country record. Just getting away for a while gave me perspective on what kind of album I wanted to make, and not rush into it.

How has the concept of the Love Unleashed tour evolved now that you’re almost actually on the road for it? The concept behind that tour came from, “What do I want to say with this tour? What do I want the experience for my fans to be like?” We live in this crazy world right now, where you’re just inundated with bad news and disturbing images. It’s 24-7. I have an 11-year-old at home still, so I was trying to think, “How do we protect ourselves from that? How do I protect her from that?” We turned off the news. We started listening to more music together as a family. We started spending more time around the dinner table.

I started thinking, for my fans, I want to create an experience where they come into the show and leave the world outside behind for a couple of hours, and just share the common experience with music and positivity and love—and leave feeling like they can tackle the world from a bit stronger place from having been at the concert. Even though the official tour with the name doesn’t start until October, I still feel I’m bringing that mind-set to each show that I’m doing now. I feel like it’s a conscious effort for me to spread some love and distract everyone from the world outside for a bit.

You recently took part in a video celebrating the 50th annual CMA awards, “Forever Country.” What does it mean to be a part of something honoring so much history? It’s awesome. To be in that group of people, it makes me feel like what I’ve done matters. Your peers and the people that are putting a project like that together, as they’re choosing people to be a part of it, your name comes up. And it’s like, “Wow, that’s really humbling,” just to be a part of this wonderful, amazing thing we call country music.

Did you get to choose what you sang? They gave me the lines to sing—[and] they gave us each extra lines to sing. I mean, I can’t imagine putting that project together, and editing it. It’s a huge concept. I would imagine it would be a big undertaking to make all that work. They put it all together and made this incredible video for it, which I think is beautiful.

Do you have any plans to do a second recipe or cookbook? I don’t have any plans to do one, actually in the works, but I would love to do another one. I am proud of that book; I still use it all the time. Like, literally, I cook from that all the time. (laughs) It was a great process creatively to do it. I hope that something will come up that I can do something like that again.

Do you have a dream concept that, in an ideal world, you’d love to do? I think it would be fun to do a holiday party book—like a tree-trimming party and a caroling party—and just put together different party concepts, chapters for the holiday season. It’s such a festive time. And everybody can always use new ideas, because you end up doing the same thing every year, and you make the same foods. It would be fun and inspiring to put together several party ideas—themes and food and all of that.

This upcoming Las Vegas concert is a festival appearance. How do you change up your sets when you know it’s a slightly different, shorter one? Festivals are always fun, but they’re a bit challenging, because usually people have been there all day. We want to keep our set kind of uptempo, so I pace it a little bit differently than I would a theater show. [You’re] trying to keep everybody up, and just a big party, you know?

Route 91 Harvest Festival September 30-October 2, 2 p.m.-midnight, $210-$750. Las Vegas Village, rt91harvest.com..

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