On her 12th studio album, Lady & Gentlemen, LeAnn Rimes offers a collection of classic country songs by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Notice the absence of any female names on that list? Well, LeAnn did that on purpose, choosing to add a female voice to golden favorites originally performed by male country singers.
“This album was born out of the memories of when I first fell in love with country music,” says the 29-year-old Grammy-winner. “And in reflecting, I realized that almost all of my favorite country songs from back then were sung by men.” LeAnn, along with Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill and producer/songwriter Darrell Brown, serves as co-producer on the 14-song project (two of which are bonus tracks including the current single “Give”).
Lady & Gentlemen opens by cranking up the tempo on John Anderson’s number-one hit “Swingin’,” which he originally released in 1983. Working the title literally to produce a 1940s-swing vibe on the song, LeAnn’s vocal delivery shows off a lot of soul while also revealing a certain urgency underneath the quick melodies. LeAnn’s voice is bright and shines throughout the entire record, but this underlying fire is intriguing and can be heard on several songs, including her interpretation of “Only Mama That’ll Walk The Line.” With a little shake and a lot of twang, LeAnn covers the Waylon Jennings classic with attitude. Switching up the chorus to fit a woman’s perspective, she sings, ‘Cause ever since I was a little teeny-weeny girl/ I said you were the only man in my whole world/ Now you better do some thinkin’ and then you’ll find/ You got the only mama that’ll walk the line.
Most of the versions on Lady & Gentlemen stay true to the original recordings, focusing more on the angle of a woman’s perspective than reinventing the legendary music. Her stellar version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” is a fine example as the stark piano-based instrumentation spotlights LeAnn’s voice and the message in much the same way Kris’ version focused on the lyrical content. Her elegant vibrato on delicate lines like, all I’m taking is your time, quivers like the plea she makes, while her vocal transition to unrestrained lines like, I don’t care what’s right or wrong, is striking.
Through including such well-known country staples as Waylon and Willie’s ”Good Hearted Woman,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” it might be easy to overlook the other standout deep cuts that were chosen for this collection. “16 Tons,” originally a 1940s coal-mining song made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford, is poignant in today’s economic times. Featuring the steady slap of an acoustic bass and vibrant horn section, LeAnn sings with a smoky, sultry jazz-influence, You load 16 tons, whaddaya get?/ Another day older and deeper in debt.
In an interesting twist, Lady & Gentlemen also features the title-track and lead single from LeAnn’s debut album Blue. Bill Mack, the Dallas DJ who discovered LeAnn in the early 1990s, wrote the song that propelled LeAnn to stardom in 1996 when she was 14-years-old. Through its inclusion, LeAnn pays subtle tribute to the man who helped make her a country star while also bringing both the female perspective and male songwriter back to where it all started in her career.