Hate to be cliche...but isn't it ironic? LeAnn Rimes, after a four-year break from recording, has released what is probably her most countrified album ever.
Lady And Gentlemen is a concept record featuring covers of the creme de la creme of classic male country artists...Jones, Haggard, Kristofferson, Jennings. She's basically rewritten a history book of country music for her younger audience. She worked with Nashville royalty Vince Gill and Darrell Brown to produce the project.
In short, this is a very, very country record. And, most importantly, she sounds wonderful on it. Fans who loved Rimes back in the day when she was a child prodigy will be hard-pressed to find issue with her still-rich, still-powerful vocal style on her newest effort. She even includes a slightly jazzed-up anniversary version of her breakout hit "Blue."
So, where is the irony? Well, you know where I'm going. Does LeAnn have the fans who loved her back in the day, anymore?
Even broader: Does she have the country audience?
It may sound like a harsh question, but when one searches for news on Rimes's new album online, the first result returned has nothing to do with music--rather, and predictably, it's a story about husband Eddie Cibrian discussing how she "eats more than I do sometimes."
I don't have to explain this, do I? Rimes has been caught up in a whirlwind of tabloid gossip for the past few years--starting with her liasions with Cibrian (both were married when they began seeing each other). When Rimes turned to working out as a way of dealing with her stress, chatter then shifted to her weight and accusations of anorexia.
Rimes didn't help things along much. The fact that she took a little bit too long to release her latest record was a bit of a mistake, among other things that added up. Not that she did anything overtly wrong (Cibrian made an honest woman out of her in April, after all)--but her penchant for posting Twitter shots of herself in skimpy swimwear, accompanied by zillions of press photos featuring her in outre couture, sealed her new image as a Hollywood player.
Which means, of course, it took away from whatever was left of her country image--an image that ballsy Texan Miranda Lambert and America's sweetheart Carrie Underwood easily managed to fill during Rimes's absence from the musical spotlight. More irony here, because listening to Rimes's Lady And Gentlemen, it's pretty clear her talent is from the core, no matter what her image portrays.
All this said--what are the fans saying? It may seem a bit silly to some that Rimes's personal life plays such an integral part in whether her "comeback" to country music will succeed or not. However, country music fans are in a endearing/infuriating class of their own, and will not bend to any rules except what they perceive as right. When you're in, you're in; but when you're out, it's hard to squeeze through again. (We've seen this before, most notably in the case of the Dixie Chicks in 2003.)
I, for one, hope fans can look past Rimes's "transgressions" (as they were) and instead choose to focus on the music. Rimes herself seems to have no intention of letting her greatest gift wither on the vine.
Give Lady And Gentlemen a listen and see what you think. Be sure to let me know, too!
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