As you may have noticed, the Country Universe staff loves to find ways to participate in joint writing projects. So, while it won’t be the exclusive way that we review albums, we thought we would give a new, more collaborative album review format a try. As an offshoot of our Round Table Single Reviews, which could become repetitive when we all agreed on a particular track, we are test-driving Round Table Album Reviews, which will give us all a chance to weigh in on different tracks and aspects of a single album. With this format, even if we all generally positively (or negatively) agree on an album, as happens to be the case here, we still have room for a variety of perspectives.
It’s certainly no secret that LeAnn Rimes has lived a tumultuous life, a fact which has been sensationalized by various media outlets throughout her career. While her male counterparts are frivolously singing about cruising backroads, partying life away and generic love, Rimes has channeled her life circumstances into an emotional and fiery work of art, just as true artists tend to do. As a result, music critics have taken notice and have rewarded her efforts with high praise and acclaim.
As Dan observed in his review of the album’s lead release, Rimes is “an artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year.” Rimes’ Spitfire demonstrates that the trend continues with the best album of her career and, certainly, what will be one of the shining albums of 2013. – Leeann Ward
“Gasoline and Matches” (with Rob Thomas, featuring Jeff Beck)
In an album rife with weighty reflection and introspection, the nearly frenetic “Gasoline and Matches”, originally written and performed by Buddy and Julie Miller, is a welcome reprieve. It’s as intense as the rest of the album, but in a decidedly different way.
Lyrics like “You pull my pin and you trip my wire/Yeah, well, you come in and set my heart on fire/You knock me out, you rock me off my axis” signal that this isn’t just some run-of-the mill love song, but rather, a cleverly constructed, fiery romper. What’s more, is there a more endearing proposal line than “Baby, we should get related”? Maybe so, but it perfectly fits the cheekiness of this song.
Furthermore, along with the addicting bass riff and bluesy guitar solo from Jeff Beck, Rimes and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas rise to the song’s proverbial gauntlet with a rousing performance where they match each other’s intensity phrase for phrase, which all culminates into a truly riveting listening experience. – Leeann Ward
Written by Buddy Miller and Julie Miller
“Who We Really Are”
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artist’s entire “reason to be” shift so dramatically over the course of one career. When Rimes first surfaced, the novelty was she was a young girl with amazing pipes who could belt out classics past and present. Her success was based on the very opposite of song interpretation, with the focus being completely on the singer – “Wow, can you believe a little girl just hit that note!” The songs were incidental, and usually better interpreted by other artists in years gone by. In that sense, she foreshadowed what would make most of the “American Idol” also-rans popular while on the show, but irrelevant once they were voted off.
“Who We Really Are” perfectly illustrates how she’s become something else entirely: a subtle, nuanced singer who gets out of the song’s way, allowing the writing to take center stage. This only works if a singer is able to pick (or write) great material in the first place, and is able to communicate the song’s meaning in a way that is clarifying for the listener. She succeeds wildly here, earning what might be the greatest compliment a singer can get when recording outside material: It sounds like she wrote it. – Kevin John Coyne
Written by Darrell Brown and Sarah Buxton
“I Do Now”
What music fan hasn’t had this experience? You heard a song as a kid, fell in love with the feeling and melody, grew up ten years and suddenly realized, “Oh; this is about heroin addiction.”
That’s not quite Rimes’s character here, thankfully. But in one of the most upbeat admissions of wrongdoing since “Dang Me,” she does fess up to her share of cheating and drinking, all while bopping around to a beat so groovy that they had to give it a 50-second solo at the top of the track. Turns out Rimes used to find the classic Hank and Merle weepers pretty groovy, too – until she started living through them.
But you can’t keep a good girl down: even after she’s driven away her man, then alienated everyone else trying to drink away her shame, she manages to get her act together, coming full circle to a new love who helps set her free, just like in the oughta-be classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Getting older and wiser can mean seeing more of the darkness in the world, Rimes seems to acknowledge – but if you hold out for it, you get see more of the light, too. – Dan Milliken
Written by LeAnn Rimes, Darrell Brown & Dan Wilson
“God Takes Care of Your Kind”
The most obvious choice LeAnn Rimes could have made for her performance on “God Takes Care of Your Kind” would have been a vengeful, “woman scorned” act, turning the song into a tale of fiery accusations and Old Testament style retribution. But Rimes has spent her last four albums avoiding those obvious choices that most of her contemporaries likely would – and far too often do – make. What makes the final kiss-off of “God Takes Care of Your Kind” so cutting isn’t the rusty barbs knotted in its lyrics but the fact that Rimes’ delivery couldn’t be more casual in its dismissal.
She references deep betrayal in the chorus (“I let you in where I never let anyone/You cut me open just to watch the blood run,” for those wondering if modern country songs could still trade in sexually loaded metaphors). But, drawling out her lines over a slinky rhythm section, she doesn’t sound the least bit pressed by any of it. Instead, she’s relaxed and confident, resting easy in the blessed assurance that the Good Lord has her back. – Jonathan Keefe
Written by Darrell Brown, LeAnn Rimes and Dean Sheremet
“A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind”
Amidst all the astute, specific storytelling on Spitfire, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” sticks out for its broad strokes of emotion. There’s no vivid thought process to trace here; it’s just a lament about the cost of foolishly ignoring love, built around a turn-of-phrase that sits dangerously close to contrived.
But its craft is elsewhere: Like the potent country song it recalls, it drowns the narrative in emotion – through the swell of the melody, the cry of the steel guitar, the guilt in Rimes’ voice – until the words becomes an accessory. Rimes plays into this effect with a performance that’s as stirring as the arrangement it complements, restrained and self-loathing all at once. If Spitfire is an indication of the vision-driven artist we weren’t sure Rimes could become, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” is a reminder of the artist whose voice could always light fire and relevance under the most classically constructed country songs. – Tara Seetharam
Written by David Baerwald, Darrell Brown and LeAnn Rimes
Completely agree with everything said here, brilliant review for a brilliant album.
Personally I feel that the album, while great as a stand alone selection of songs, is even more endearing the listener given the huge coverage of the whole Cibrian/Glanville/Rimes debacle. Understanding Rimes’ personal life over the past few years really makes each of these songs seem so much more nuanced, much in the same way that the George Bush/London incident made “Taking the Long Way” the Chicks’ most interesting album to date (in my humble opinion, of course).
I guess what I’m saying is that, as much as I love an album that is so personally tied to the artist recording it, I love it even more when as the listener you have the ability to pin point exactly what aspect of their personal life each song is referencing, and this is certainly one of those albums.
I continue to be blown away by Rimes. Maybe she is one of those people that thrives on controversy. I even like her pop stuff from years back. I agree with the reviewers that her rather public past problems make listening to this even more interesting.
This is a really cool format and I enjoyed this article. Will have to check out the album.
Also Dan, I enjoyed the “Semi-Charmed Life” reference there.
Please PLEASE do more album reviews like this.
Wondering what any of the above authors thought of “You Ruined Me”
Love the forum and way you can provide different perspective in the same album. Great idea!
I would love to see you Gus do this again but my only request: please review the whole album. I’d love to hear your thoughts on every song not just a select few.
I Do Now is my all time favourite, especially the ‘go ahead and kiss my ass’ part. Best review I’ve read in a long time.
Thank you for all of your feedback on this album and the format that we used. Glad you’re liking it.
Greg, thanks for the suggestion. It’s a very valid point. Perhaps next time we do this, some of us could cover more than one song on the album. However, when we review albums, even the traditional way, I don’t know that we typically cover all of the songs on the album.
It’s not a bad album but taken out of context it rates no more than a B (or 3.5 to 4 stars). The context of the scandal will be fogotten in time (unless Leann does a Mindy McCready) and what will be left is the actual music, which is quite good but nothing transcendant
I enjoy the heck out of reading this review format by the Country Universe crew. Even more than that, for as short as it is, I enjoyed the heck out of this album. While LeAnn hasn’t assembled an album of traditional country staples here, she’s done what so, so many cannot do today in the world of modern country music; she’s gone out and made interesting records, selecting well crafted songs. The only thing is, “Spitfire” left me wanting more. I wishes there was a full album of 12 or so songs here. However, given the quality of each record on it and how much heck I enjoyed out of them, I think I can give Team LeAnn a free pass here, just this one time.
Great music to listen to, it just leaves me greedy and wanting more!
I’m confused?: While we didn’t review all of the songs here, there are 14 songs on the album and it runs about 50 minutes, which seems pretty generous to me.