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LeAnn Rimes

Lady and Gentlemen – 2011 (Curb)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by LeAnn Rimes

Among female singers in country music, with the possible exception of Martina McBride, no one can touch LeAnn Rimes' voice for purity, grace, power and tone. Nowhere is Rimes' vocal prowess more evident than on her latest record, a 14-song collection of hits not by the women of country, but by a cross-section of all-star male country singers. Perhaps the best thing about this collection is that Rimes puts her own stamp on each song. That's easier said than done, since these are some of the most iconic, testosterone-laden guy country songs ever committed to tape.

Sure, she does it as Only Mama That'll Walk the Line rather than sticking to Waylon Jennings' original Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line, but Rimes more than captures the iconic Waymore swagger.

While no female can touch Emmylou Harris' version of Merle Haggard's (Tonight) the Bottle Let Me Down, Rimes nonetheless turns in a darker, smokier version with enough Haggard-esque dips and sways to remain true to The Hag's 1966 classic.

Rimes is goosebump good with Kris Kristofferson's Help Me Make it Through the Night and absolutely nails arguably the greatest country song of all time, George Jones' He Stopped Lovin' Her Today.

Two new cuts bring us back to 2011. Give is a cluttered, noisy ballad that drowns the meaningful lyrics but Crazy Women is a tough-girl cut with enough strut and arrogance to make old-timers like Waylon Jennings proud. And Rimes' revisit with musical assist by the Time Jumpers of her 1996 debut single Blue (she was just 13; dang, how time flies) is a bit nostalgic, but nestles comfortably among the other classics.

At just 29, Rimes is nevertheless among country's stateswomen. Perhaps it's her 18 years as a hit maker and the accompanying institutional stature that gives her the right to record a collection of country standards - from the guys no less - but she clearly shows she has the chops and swagger to pull it off.