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LeAnn Rimes Pays Homage to Classic Country on ‘Lady and Gentlemen’

LeAnn Rimes
Courtesy of ID Public Relations

Today, LeAnn Rimes‘ latest album, ‘Lady and Gentlemen,’ is in stores nationwide. The album is a unique collection of classic country songs made famous by male singers, which Rimes perfects with her sultry, soulful and angelic vocals, making each song her own. In addition to the standards and a remake of ‘Blue,’ the song that put her on name on the map, Rimes’ new album also features two originals — her Top 30 hit ‘Crazy Women’ and her current single on the rise, ‘Give.’

Taste of Country visited with Rimes prior to the album’s release to talk about the critically acclaimed project, why now was the right time to remake her smash hit ‘Blue’ and the impact the collection of songs has made on her life.

How did the concept for doing this style of album come about?
It was really just out of the love of the kind of country music I feel is completely lost art in a way. I was raised on classic country music by my dad, so other than Patsy Cline, he really loved listening to all these great men. I just thought it was a cool idea — because a lot of these songs have not been recorded by a woman — to actually have a woman attack some of these songs that normally wouldn’t be sung by a woman … something like ‘16 Tons’ is talking about singing in a coal mine, and somehow we made that sexy [laughs]! I really had so much fun doing this album because we wanted to pay homage to the original, but my biggest concern was always to make sure we weren’t doing a karaoke record from front to back, where it was just my voice on the same song and the same arrangement. We definitely pushed the envelope a little bit with every song and paid the homage to the original, but made it my own, completely bringing them to a new generation of fans. Also, I think the people that grew up with these songs will have something that’s a new kind of spin on songs they can hopefully fall in love with again.

What has the feedback been from the artists whose songs you covered, after they’ve heard your version?
If you go on my website, there’s a blog section, and you can see all of what the ‘Gentlemen’ had to say. It has George Jones, John Anderson, John Conlee and Merle Haggard … everybody had quotes about the record. They’ve listened to the whole album and have been super supportive. Their compliments have been very humbling. I’ve been taken back by many of them because these men have had many people record and re-record their songs. To hear what they had to say … I almost cried. I think every time I got an email or a phone call about what Merle said or what George said, I was very moved by it. These men don’t have to give a quote to anybody or tell me they like it or hate it or whatever, but they have. They have been so gracious to do that. I’m truly humbled by it because I really looked at this as a thank you to them for really kind of shaping the way I look at music. These songs are so real to them. They lived what they were singing and writing about. It’s kind of hard to find that these days, I think, within music. I have a great respect for all of them. So for them to have given their stamp of approval for this record is tremendously overwhelming.

One of the songs you included on the project is Vince Gill’s ‘When I Call Your Name.’ Vince was obviously in the same room with you since he co-produced the album, so was there any added pressure to sing that with him right there?
No, not at all. I never really looked at it that way. I love Vince. I’ve known him for many years, and I have a great respect for him. I guess when it comes to singing, I have no fear, no matter who it is or who I’m singing with. I have no fear. He actually didn’t even want me to do that song. I think he had such a connection with it. He’s been singing it for God knows how long, and he really looked at me and said, “Do we really have to do this song?” [laughs] I was like, “Yeah! We’re doing this song!” I think that was the one song he almost had the most connection with, so he had to pull himself away from how he had done it for so long.

Tom Bukovac, one of the guitar players that played on the record, just started playing around with it and had this cool, old-school blues thing going on. We kind of went that direction with it. I was sick the day we cut it, so I didn’t sing in the studio. Every time we’d go in the studio, I would sing with the band. Vince actually got sick that same day, so he couldn’t sing it. We completely rearranged the song. He started playing me some Sam Cooke stuff, which of course I know a lot of Sam Cooke stuff, but he was kind of saying let’s go this direction with it. So when I went in to record, I completely changed a lot of the melody. I just went with it [laughs] — whatever came out of my mouth at the time! It was cool because I really got to create and explore and change that song into a completely different thing. I know Vince loved it, but it was funny because his daughter, Jenny, came in and heard it. She said, “Dad, I think I actually finally like this song!” [laughs]. It was pretty funny. It was fun to be able to do stuff like that. Vince is so chill, and so am I, and so open-minded. We both are. It was just cool to be able to create together and play because it really is such a playful record. It’s such an art record. We really didn’t have any kind of pressure on us to perform in a way … to make hits and this big thing. It’s really just an art record. It comes from both of our appreciation for this kind of country music.

What kind of fan feedback have you been getting after playing the songs at your shows each night?
I love that everybody has a different favorite. So many young kids are saying, “I love this ‘Wasted Days and Wasted Nights’ song.” People my age, some of them have never even heard it before. All of these huge hits we are taking to a new generation of people and carrying on the legacy of people like Freddy Fender and Merle Haggard. I think that’s kind of cool, too. Some of these songs are completely new to a lot of people.

Obviously one song on the album that will not be considered new to your fans is ‘Blue.’ How did it feel to remake that song after all these years, seeing that the last time you performed it in the studio you were only 11-years-old?
I’ve been singing it for so long, but I never got sick of that song because it’s so good and it’s so classic. It has the same kind of feel that all these great songs that we recorded by all these great men have. I think this version is my favorite version of the song. It’s definitely more authentic to what the song is with that style of music than the original. It’s so much fun to sing it now. I’ve always had fun singing the song, but it’s taken on a whole new meaning. Obviously the emotional place that I’m at in my life at 29 is way different than when I was 11. There’s just so much more passion behind it. I love it, and I really loved creating that again. It was really surreal to walk in and open my mouth in front of a microphone that’s not onstage; it was a studio mic, and it was like, “Wow! I’m really stepping back in time.”

Talk a little about the current single, ‘Give.’ The message behind the song is a very powerful one. Why was it important to you to include on this album?
I think you’re kind of tackling two different things with an album like this. The whole record is an art record. When you have a song like ‘Give,’ that number one, I think, was a radio single, but I think the message of the song is so important. I think we’ve always, in this country, think we need to give with money. What I think we forget is we’re here as human beings. We forget that we’re here to give back to one another of ourselves, and not just monetarily. I think that’s really kind of the message that I want to get through to people with this song. I feel like this little vessel carrying this big message around.

In the video, you highlight some homeless youth. How did that experience impact your own life?
The video has changed my life, working with homeless children. It really has truly made me incredibly grateful for what I have. I look at life in a completely different way. My words can’t describe how much filming that video has changed my life that day.

Over the past few years you have been dabbling more and more with acting. Your next movie, ‘Reel Love,’ will be premiering in November on CMT. Have you had the chance to see it yet?
I just saw it [last week], actually. I haven’t been acting as long as I’ve been singing, but I’m learning every day. Every movie gets better. I can see myself really relaxing and creating a character in the moments. It’s so fun to watch for me. [My husband] watched it with me, and he’s like, “Babe … you did a really good job!” I almost didn’t believe him. I was like, “Really? Really?” [laughs] I see so much growth that’s happened even since [my role in] ‘Northern Lights.’ I almost look at it and go, “Wow … I did that. I accomplished something big for me.” I’m really proud of my work, and I’m proud of the film.

With this album and the film, I think I’ve come to a cool place where I’m just opening up and learning. I will definitely make mistakes and fall on my face, but that’s the only way to learn. People are going to watch every bit of it, so be it.

Watch the LeAnn Rimes ‘Give’ Video

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