If there was ever a time for a new generation to be introduced to the standards of country music, it's now. LeAnn Rimes' impressive set, Lady and Gentlemen, takes a raw — and at times tearfully heartbreaking with gin-soaked moments — walk down memory lane. If schooling was what you needed, well, you just discovered all the reasons why country, the most American of all musical genres, has stood the test of time.
As soon as the playful and vocally expressive opening track "Swingin'" takes off, Rimes cracks open a vessel of pure musical gold. Sometimes, her personal life drastically overshadows her talent. In this classic feel good fiddle and guitar session, Rimes, whose phrasing inspires, took what made this John Anderson ditty so great, turned up the volume and blew out the back speakers of your daddy's old Ford.
Imagination and clever twists pepper an album that could have easily come off as a cheap knockoff. That isn't the case here, especially with "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." Somehow, Rimes delivers an even more touching performance than Freddy Fender ever did. Not to discredit Fender's work, but Rimes pulls the reins in and creates a delightful rendition, and her Spanish isn't half bad.
Now, while no female in country music can compare to Linda Ronstadt — who covered Waylon Jennings "The Only Daddy to Walk the Line" with a few creative changes to the lyrics — Rimes takes cues from both of them in how to breathe fire into "The Only Mama That'll Walk the Line." Sure, Rimes may not reach legendary status, but what she does do here is prove that she can emote, rearrange and vocally impress similar to the greats.
Going even further on a Merle Haggard ballad, Rimes sinks her teeth into some pretty dark material. With "I Can't Be Myself," Rimes is right at home with telling a gut-wrenching story of a psychologically abusive relationship. Torn between love and the right thing, every vocal nuance drips with sincerity as if Rimes had written the song herself. There are few artists that have this ability, and unlike singing, deep connection to material can not be taught.
Then, among an already heavy album, drops "Sixteen Tons," a coal mining tale originally performed by Merle Travis and later by Tennessee Ernie Ford, who hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts with this track. Ford's version was a crisp jazz-infused number, at least in live performance, and Rimes lifted that energy into her own soulful take on the track. Before now, she rarely exercised her jazz chops, but this song demonstrates that she may need to broaden her musical style. By melting the lyrics, she has crafted a new nostalgic breed of generation. She sings about a generation that fantastically dreams of jazz clubs and cigar rooms and struggles to climb out of the governmental hands of their oppressors.