Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Lady and Gentlemen

LeAnn Rimes

Lady and Gentlemen

A new covers album from LeAnn Rimes would likely draw comparisons to her 1999 self-titled effort, which found her covering the likes of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  But this time, there’s a twist:  All of the songs she’s covering were originally recorded by male artists.  Thus, Rimes is re-interpreting them in a female perspective.

And while 1999’s LeAnn Rimes album might have given you a feeling that you were listening to really good karaoke singer, as her versions seldom strayed far from the originals, Rimes’ new collection Lady and Gentlemen finds her taking substantial liberties with these classic hits.  She even alters lyrics on Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” (re-titled as “The Only Mama That’ll Walk the Line”).  The songs are given modern, yet reverent, production arrangements, with Rimes adding her own personal style to each one, resulting in a uniquely creative effort.

Besides the obviously strong song material, what really makes Lady and Gentlemen a keeper is the fact that, although she covers everyone from Jennings to Jones to Haggard, the project remains first and foremost a LeAnn Rimes album.  She sounds entirely in her element – After all, she grew up listening to these songs – and the result is a strong set of performances that sound natural, sincere, and unaffected.

Rimes and her co-producers Vince Gill and Darrell Brown craft arrangements that sound simultaneously vintage and modern, never treating the songs as museum pieces.  The albums kicks off with Rimes’ cover of John Anderson’s “Swingin,” which was released as the project’s first single last year.  Though it barely made a ripple on the charts, it easily ranked as one of the best singles of the year.

While everything about the original Anderson recording screamed “eighties,” LeAnn speeds up the tempo, and transforms the über-cheesy hit into a modern-day jam session.  In listening to Rimes’ vocal delivery, you’d think she chugged down a pot of espresso before heading into the recording studio.  Like an auctioneer at the county fair, Rimes calls out the verses in rapid-fire succession, while the band furiously plucks away behind her.

The better part of the album finds Rimes backed with simple acoustic and steel guitar-driven arrangements, such as on the Freddy Fender cover “Wasted Days and Wasted Night” – worth hearing for her Spanish accent alone.  She utilizes a similar sonic approach on Merle Haggard’s “I Can’t Be Myself,” notable also for a vocal that sounds deeply plaintive, while also casting a feminine tone over the classic lyric.  While her version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” carries a deep retro vibe, she adds an extra layer of sass to the lyric, which makes the song one of the album’s most interesting tracks.

She deviates from the vintage approach with her cover of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” and instead puts a blue-eyed country soul spin on the nineties hit.  Such an approach accents the deep bluesy tone in her voice, but the unnecessary addition of a gospel choir distracts from the raw emotion that came through in Gill’s original recording.  Though interesting, her take on “When I Call Your Name” is less satisfying than many of the album’s other tracks.

Perhaps the song that gives her the biggest shoes to fill is the classic Bobby Braddock/ Curly Putman composition “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” a hit for George Jones in 1980, and widely regarded as the greatest country song of all time.  Appropriately, Rimes and Gill’s approach places the classic lyric front and center, with no superfluous bells or whistles.  Rimes is backed by little more than an acoustic guitar as she recounts the dark tale of a man who loved his woman until the very end, even when his love was no longer requited.  She gives a remarkably moving performance of the familiar ballad, even when delivering the spoken-word portion.  Vince Gill adds his distinctive harmony touch to the track, and the result sounds absolutely haunting, making “He Stopped Loving Her Today” a strong contender for being the album’s best track.

The album closes with the original songs “Crazy Women” and “Give,” both of which have seen release as singles.  “Crazy Women” sounds like something out of a Broadway musical (or a Laura Bell Bundy album, for that matter), and Rimes deftly pulls it off with a broadly entertaining performance of the wickedly snarky tune.  Current single “Give” returns Rimes to a fully modern pop-country style.  While the philosophical song – a call for proactivity and benevolence in the world – is a strong composition, the musical styling is an awkward fit for an album that is largely retro in style.  It’s a good song – It just sounds like it belongs on a different album.

As a special treat for her fans, Rimes offers a re-recorded version of her classic 1996 debut single “Blue,” commemorating the fifteen-year anniversary of the song’s release.  The new version sounds even more traditional than the original, which is saying a lot, while also displaying Rimes’ growth as a vocalist and lyrical interpreter.  She gives a performance with more restraint than the original, connecting with the underlying emotions on an even deeper level than before, while the simpler, twangier arrangement highlights the timeless nature of the Bill Mack composition.  It’s impressive to note the ease with which “Blue” fits in among all these revered classics.  As one who’s known and loved the song “Blue” for years, I do not say this lightly:  The new version of “Blue” rivals the original.

A binding thread running throughout the set is the palpable reverence Rimes displays for these songs, which makes Lady and Gentlemen one of the most intriguing and wholly satisfying releases of 2011, and of Rimes’ own career output.  It all comes together so well that the project’s success seem perfectly natural.  LeAnn Rimes is a great singer, and these are great songs, so in her tackling these timeless tunes, it logically follows that a great album would result.

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23 Comments

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23 Responses to Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Lady and Gentlemen

  1. Interesting review. The previews on iTunes were engaging, besides the fact I LOVED “Swingin’,” and enjoyed the other two singles off the album, I can’t wait to get my hands on this.

    Rimes would make a good Broadway star… A thought that came up after you mentioned Broadway, ha. But she could, she has the voice, the ability to dance, though I don’t know about her acting ability (even though she’s been in a few movies, haven’t seen them).

    More to the point, great review, and really adds to my excitement over the album.

  2. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    I could do without the originals, though they’re fine, but this is an album that deserves to be heard despite the tabloid drama surrounding Rimes. Good review.

  3. Thanks, Blake and Zack. And yes, I definitely agree on what a shame it is that LeAnn’s personal exploits have overshadowed her fine musical talents.

  4. I hated Swinging, but I am interested in hearing this.

  5. Great review. I am surprised you gave it four stars, given how much praise you heaped on it. You have me intrigued thanks to the description of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” That’s holy ground right there.

  6. I did do a little minor nit-picking, but four stars means “a very strong album that is recommended listening,” and I think this album fits that description.

    “He Stopped Loving Her Indeed” is holy ground indeed, and a big reason why I loved LeAnn’s version is I feel like she treated the song as holy ground. She didn’t copy the original, obviously, but I do believe a hear a great deal of reverence in her performance of the song.

  7. Great review. I’m enjoying this album as much as I’d hoped I would. It’s quite good. I’m not really into the original songs, but I like most of the reinterpretations, though the Vince cover will have to grow on me. I love her updated “Blue.” It’s cool to hear the growth of her voice in the last 15 years. Also, the arrangement sounds like it could fit on Patty Loveless’ Sleepless Nights album, which I love in large part due to the arrangements.

  8. MotownMikeNo Gravatar

    But these Rose Colored Glasses, that I’m looking through…

    Just awesome!!! This 1980’s John Conlee classic is one of my favorite yesteryear country songs of all time and I am pleased as a peach that LeeAnn chose to cover the song on her mostly-cover album! She did a standup job singing the song and interpreting it from a women’s point of view.

  9. Thanks, Leeann, and that’s a really interesting thought. Now that you mention it, I definitely get a Sleepless Nights vibe from the new recording of “Blue.” I could almost even hear Patty’s voice on it.

    I actually took some time to warm up to LeAnn’s version of “Rose Colored Glasses,” having already been a big fan of the John Conlee tune. I liked the waltz-like tempo of the original, which LeAnn’s version doesn’t have as much, but I like how she in a way created a version that sounded even more country than the original. I have decided that I approve.

  10. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    Regarding “The Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line”–of course LeAnn isn’t the first female artist to do that song with the altered title. Both Connie Smith and Linda Ronstadt, both in 1969, did it the same way, and I think there are a couple of others as well.

  11. You nailed it with one sentence.Great songs and a great singer….winning combination.Very few female singers could carry this off,Ms Rimes heads the list.Great that she’s bringing this wonderful music to a new audience.I agree with Mr Jones….SHE CAN SING.The private lives of the original artist was none of my business and neither is Ms Rimes.

  12. I really enjoy this record – it’s a collection of well-made cover versions. It sounds like classic country. The songs are relatively short and tell simple stories. LeAnn’s voice shines on this album like it hasn’t before.

  13. sharrieNo Gravatar

    Total let down for me. She has a ncie voice but it sounds the same on each track – little range. I believe she is washed up now.

  14. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    $5 on Amazon this month!

  15. Dang. I paid full price, since I bought it on release day.

  16. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Very good album, maybe her best yet – the two new songs are nothing special and her take on “Swingin'” was kind of weird, but the eleven songs in between track one and the new songs are indeed solid country gold.

    I was especially pleased to hear her cover Hag’s “I Can’t Be Myself”, a big hit at the time, but now largely forgotten (bar band and karaoke vocalists often find it too difficult to sing).

    I enjoyed the new interpretation of “Blue” as well. While it doesn’t remind me of the Kennny Roberts original from the mid-1960’s, it is, as Ben noted, even more traditional sounding that LeAnn’s first stab at the song

  17. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I like how the album has a cohesive sound throughout. Gotta say I’m disappointed in her take on “Rose Colored Glasses,” though. A bit too jaunty for my taste.

  18. That was my initial reaction, having loved the slow waltz tempo of the John Conlee original, but LeAnn’s version grew on me.

  19. AnnaNo Gravatar

    I totally disagree with this review. In my opinion, this is the most pathetic attempt at a cover album. Yeah, she has a nice voice, and she doesn’t do too bad singing most of the songs, but there I just don’t think she did any of them justice. First of all, whoever let her butcher “Rose Colored Glasses” should be beat with a stick. She took away everything great about that song. Being Merle Haggards #1 fan, I was super dissapointed with her versions of the two songs of his. The rest, like I said, were just nothing special. If anything is karaoke, it’s this album

  20. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    This album totally hits the spot.

  21. Susan K.No Gravatar

    I am really enjoying most of this album. “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “The Bottle Let Me Down” are definite highlights.

  22. Jon G.No Gravatar

    I kinda thought her version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” stuck too close to the original for Rimes to really pull. [As blasphemous as this is, I think the song itself is overrated. It’s a good song. I’m not arguing that. But anytime you call something “the best,” you’re basically begging for dissent; still, it’s kind of like how I think ‘Citizen Kane’ is overrated, if slightly more so. Personally, I’d like to push “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” or some other Hank as the greatest country song of all time…or forgo the entire process.]
    Susan K., I was also surprised that Ben didn’t mention her transcendent version of [Tonight] “The Bottle Let Me Down,” which I thought was far and away the best track on the album. I agree with his view of the album on the whole, but we differ on the details.

  23. Susan K.No Gravatar

    Jon G. – I’m in complete agreement regarding “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. I didn’t care for her version, but then I’m not overly crazy about the original, either. I agree – it’s a good song – but there’s been so much hype and there are many George Jones songs that I like better, are less maudlin, but no less emotional. I am also liking “I Can’t Be Myself”. I can listen to most of this record without skipping ahead, so I’m more than satisfied with it.