It’s not unusual for a singer of one gender to personalize a song popularized by a performer of the opposite gender. On her 10th studio album, “Lady & Gentlemen,” country singer LeAnn Rimes takes the concept even further, reinterpreting nearly an entire album’s worth of male-identified hits from a female perspective. It’s a nervy undertaking given the classic nature of the material, but one that she consistently pulls off with imagination and aplomb.
She gets things started by transforming John Anderson’s “Swingin’ ” into a Bakersfield-style romp replete with breakneck Telecaster solos and bluesy barbs of steel guitar. On Merle Haggard’s “The Bottle Let Me Down,” she slackens the tempo and employs an atmospheric arrangement suggestive of Rosanne Cash at her ruminative best. For Merle Travis’s coal-mining classic “Sixteen Tons,” a number-one country and pop hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955, she adopts a jazzy, finger-popping approach reminiscent of vintage Peggy Lee.
As might be expected from someone who had her breakthrough hit with the Patsy Cline-style weeper “Blue” (reprised here as a gutbucket shuffle), Rimes sounds completely at home on the ballads, including the daunting likes of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Her lean, bluesy remake of co-producer Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” is another bold move. But even better is her steel guitar-steeped take of Freddy Fender’s “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” a gorgeous vehicle for the husky mix of sensuality and vulnerability in Rimes’s voice when she reaches down into the lower registers.
“Swingin’,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights”