LeAnn Rimes has been making albums and headlines for so long that it’s somewhat startling to realize she’ll turn all of 36 next month. In 1996 the country and pop worlds were thunderstruck by the Mississippi-born, Texas-raised singer’s delivery of Bill Mack’s “Blue”; her range, flawless intonation and the aching catch in her voice sounded eerily Patsy Cline-like — a stylistic similarity her label shamelessly hyped. She was 13. “Blue” the album went multiplatinum, and by age 14 the preternaturally poised Rimes was already the proud owner of Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
Hard to know how anyone tops that kind of career-launching achievement, let alone a teenager. Now a veteran with more than two decades of hits, misses and some acting to her name, Rimes has established herself as a powerful, very technically skilled balladeer drilled in old-school showmanship, one with a taste for dance-pop; a plethora of album and single remixes have endeared her to the club community.
But not until her 2013 album “Spitfire” did Rimes really let herself be tender and vulnerable in her music. One of her strongest albums, it was co-written (with the likes of David Baerwald, Darrell Brown and Dan Wilson) and recorded when the onetime country darling had been all but eviscerated by tabloid stories regarding her personal life. It was intended to reposition her as a more serious, introspective artist but received little attention, less for the quality of the music than for the fact that it didn’t square with her label’s cookie-cutter mentality. (It was her last album for Curb.) Listening to the emotionally revealing “What Have I Done” and “Borrowed,” both of which stand with Rimes’ best written and performed work, is like hearing someone meet their own bruised self. The woman who’d made her name as a passionate singer finally sounded more genuine than theatrical.
“Borrowed” was resurrected for Rimes’ EP “Re-Imagined,” released last month, this time as a quietly moving duet with Stevie Nicks. The arrangement’s essentially the same, but the older rocker’s unmistakable, worldly tones reinforce the song’s emotional weight with an elder’s understanding. “How Do I Live (Re-Imagined)” mostly replaces the syrupy production of her record-setting 1997 pop hit with elegant piano accompaniment that complements Rimes’ more nuanced vocal interpretation, while “One Way Ticket (Re-Imagined),” which once bopped with electric guitars, synths and youthful enthusiasm, is now shadowed by acoustic guitar, gospel-y harmonies and rueful self-knowledge. A live “Blue” is “Re-Imagined” with rubbery bass and snappier verve; a sleeker, more propulsive “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” comes off like live disco.
Collectively, the five tracks reflect how Rimes has subtly adjusted her image throughout her career while maintaining laser focus on her diva status. Hopefully the discerning storyteller of “Spitfire” and last year’s soul-inflected “Remnants” will unify those varied personas on her next recording, and at her Thursday appearance at The Rose. n
LeAnn Rimes headlines at the Rose in Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2; $38-$78. Bleu Stroud opens at 7:30 p.m. Box office: (888) 645-5006. Leannrimesworld.com