When Martina McBride decided to resurrect her Joy of Christmas tour this year, she was looking to do something a little more intimate.
The country superstar, known for such hits as “Independence Day” and “A Broken Wing,” last brought her Christmas show on the road in 2006 as a full-blown theatrical arena production. But after spending most of the year playing smaller theaters in support of 2011’s “Eleven,” her first for new label Republic Nashville, she decided to replace the previous tour’s dancers, actors and large set pieces for a seven-piece band and a simpler video screen setup.
“The last time I did the tour, I just sang to a track,” McBride said recently from her home in Nashville, on a short break early in the tour. “We had a huge production with dancers and actors, and big sets, and so we really didn’t have room onstage for a band. But this is fun — it’s fun to have musicians onstage with me.”
Where: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
How Much: $80.50, $70.50, $50.50
More Info: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com
Close to the audience
Plus, smaller theater shows just feel more like Christmas to McBride.
“It’s a little more intimate and cozy — I like it a lot better,” McBride said. “I feel a lot more close to the audience, and it makes for a better experience.”
There are other new additions to the tour, which heads to the Palace on Theatre Friday night. McBride’s sole Christmas album, “White Christmas,” originally released in 1998 and rereleased in 1999, got another rerelease in 2007 with four new tracks, leaving room for set-list additions.
Perhaps the biggest new addition to the show is a duet with Elvis Presley on “Blue Christmas,” which was originally recorded electronically using archival Presley vocal recordings for the 2008 Presley album “Christmas Duets.”
“We made a video for that song and actually inserted me into the video he had originally done,” McBride said. “It’s a lot of fun to watch — it’s great to see him larger than life on screen, and I sing the vocal lines with him.”
Many portions of the show have remained the same from the past three incarnations. One of McBride’s favorite parts of the show is going out and chatting with audience members.
“It’s really spontaneous, because you never know what people are going to say,” McBride said. ‘It can be funny and heartwarming; it’s a neat moment of the show. It’s very local and personal.”
Devoting time to writing
McBride has experienced something of a career renaissance since leaving RCA Nashville, the Kansas native’s record label home for 10 studio albums, from her 1992 debut “The Time Has Come” to 2009’s “Shine.” Most notably, “Eleven” finds McBride exploring songwriting further — although she co-wrote two tracks for 2007’s “Waking Up Laughing” and another for “Shine,” six of the 11 songs on “Eleven” were co-written by McBride.
“I really just decided to focus on it and give it some attention,” McBride said. “All three of my girls are in school all day now, so I started taking more invitations to write with people. Really, just for me, it was about finding out what I wanted to say. At first I was intimidated, but once you get started, it’s easier.”
The resulting album was naturally more personal than any of McBride’s previous albums, featuring songs tackling her family, love and touring. With McBride beginning pre-production talks for her next album soon, she’s hoping to continue to write.
Her collaborators on “Eleven” included Brett James on “Always Be This Way,” and Brad and Brett Warren, better known as the Warren Brothers, on first single “Teenage Daughters.” She’s keeping her options open as far as future songwriting collaborations go.
“I love writing with the Warren Brothers. We wrote ‘Anyway’ together, one of the songs from ‘Waking Up Laughing,’ ” McBride said. “It’s comfortable; it’s like family writing with them. As far as writing in the future, there’s tons of great writers that I’d like to write with. I just kind of keep that door open and kind of take whatever opportunity comes up.”
Opening for Strait
Along with a new album in the works, McBride is looking forward to opening for the first leg of George Strait’s retirement tour, The Cowboy Rides Away, early next year. “It’s year one of a two-year farewell tour; he’s retiring from touring, so it’s an emotional, wonderful thing to be a part of,” she said.
She’s also hoping to finally record a proper follow-up to “White Christmas” at some point in the near future. On that album, McBride stuck closely to the original arrangements of classic songs such as “Silver Bells” and “O Holy Night.”
“With this Christmas album out now, ‘White Christmas,’ I really wanted to make a Christmas album that was very classic sounding — that’s the kind of music I put on it, like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole,” McBride said. “I wanted to make a record that was going to stand the test of time, that you could put on in 20 years and have it not sound dated.”
A new Christmas album from McBride would likely go in a different direction. “I might do something like a big band record, something with more swing,” she said.