It's been a while since we've seen LeAnn Rimes. The singer, who was launched to stardom at the tender age of 13, has released her first record since 2007's Family. Indeed, Lady and Gentlemen was originally scheduled for release in 2010.
Was the delay due to second guessing, label interference, flagging creative energies? According to Rimes, she just wanted to get it right.
For the most part, she has. Lady and Gentlemen is a strong collection of songs that comes armed with an irresistible premise: Rimes covering tunes originally made famous by male country singers.
LeAnn Rimes Sings the Classics
The album starts off strong with John Anderson's "Swingin'," streaked with flaring guitar riffs that give the tune a strong Bakersfield Country vibe. Rimes matches the instrumentals with plenty of attitude on the vocals.
Speaking of Bakersfield Country, Rimes isn't afraid of tackling a song made famous by its patron saint, Merle Haggard. Her delivery on Hagg's "I Can't Be Myself" is perfect. She doesn't try to outshine Haggard's songwriting, and that's generally the pattern throughout the album -- which isn't to say there aren't some surprising new song arrangements...
Rimes gives a slinky, "Fever"-like rendition to "16 Tons," one of the classic working songs. If Tennessee Earl Ford were still alive, I'm sure he'd be blushing behind his pencil-thin mustache.
No Lack of Good Material
A tribute to country music's greatest male songwriters wouldn't be complete without an appearance by Kris Kristofferson. "Help Me Make It Through the Night" is as good a song of his to choose as any, and it's given a measured pace -- moving along from grief to bargaining to acceptance, punctuated by thudding piano and cut through by razor pedal-steel.
Kristofferson's outlaw buddies Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson come through for Rimes with their '70s hit song "A Good Hearted Woman." Unfortunately, it's a bit like listening to the original played through the wall in the next room over.
You can add "Rose Colored Glasses" to the Nothing to Write Home About department and also, regrettably, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." It's a wonderful song, written by the wonderful Bobby Braddock, performed by the great George Jones, but pardon me if I could do without this Adult Contemporary retread of a tune that, at its essence, is about a man whose only escape from heartbreak is death.
Coming Full Circle
LeAnn Rimes' last album of cover songs was her 1996 debut Blue. It's only fitting that she revisits the artists who inspired her to be a country singer in the first place. And it's only right that the singer offers another rendition of her breakthrough single, "Blue," in a voice now on the verge of 30.
The album also comes full circle with the closing track, "The Bottle Left Me Down," a Merle Haggard song it's hard to image Rimes singing. But think again -- she owns this haunting, downtempo version of the hard-drinking tale.
Riding the record's caboose are two original "bonus" tracks, "Crazy Women" and "Give." They're par-for-the-course New Country radio slush. Depressingly, "Give" is the song representing the new album on the airwaves.
LeAnn Rimes puts a new gloss on some classic country tunes in Lady & Gentlemen. In the album's best moments -- "I Can't Be Myself," "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" -- she offers renditions that stand on their own, perhaps for a while to come.
Best Songs on Lady & Gentlemen
- "Help Me Make It Through the Night" (purchase/download)
- "I Can't Be Myself" (purchase/download)
- "Swingin'" (purchase/download)
- "The Bottle Let Me Down" (purchase/download)
- "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" (purchase/download)
Track list for Lady & Gentlemen
2. "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights"
3. "The Only Mama That'll Walk The Line"
4. "I Can't Be Myself"
5. "16 Tons"
6. "Help Me Make It Through the Night"
7. "Rose Colored Glasses"
8. "A Good Hearted Woman"
9. "When I Call Your Name"
10. "He Stopped Loving Her Today"
12. "The Bottle Let Me Down"
13. "Crazy Women"