LeAnn Rimes’ private life has played out very publicly in the tabloids for the past few years and has, unfortunately,  completely overshadowed her considerable musical talents. With “Spitfire,” out today, she attempts to get the focus back on her superior singing chops through, ironically, addressing the very issue with which the press has had a field day.

[More after the jump...]

 

The album, produced by Rimes and Darrell Brown, plays out like an unspooling of her diary entries from the last four years set to music, from falling in love with her now-husband Eddie Cibrian while on a television movie set, to divorcing her then-husband, Dean Sheremet, to the seemingly daily battles she and Cibrian’s ex-wife, Brandi Glanville engage in, all breathlessly reported by Radar Online and other outlets.

While some of it may border on TMI: such as when she talks about how Cibrian has “ruined” her for any other man on “You’ve Ruined Me,”  most of the lyrics (many of them penned by Rimes with help from such notable talents as Brown, David Baerwald and Dan Wilson) display an unbelievable level of candor for someone who has lived under fame’s relentless glare lately and still remains so open and vulnerable.

“Spitfire” is at its most moving when Rimes refuses to pull any punches even when her reputation is the one most likely to be bruised when the blows land. On “Borrowed,” she eloquently speaks of the anguish of being the other woman  (Yes, society hates to show any sympathy for someone who brought such pain upon herself, but it’s still a compelling tune filled with ache and longing) and the wrenching, spare “What Have I Done,” in which she laments the hurt that she has brought others, especially her ex-husband, by grasping at happiness for herself. The ethereal backing vocals by Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminksi add to the anguish.

Rimes’ voice, so rich and wise beyond its years when she debuted at 13, now fits her. At 30, she’s grown into it both vocally and as a woman. As she sings on the wry “I Do Now,” a chugging tune about not knowing what she was singing about all those years ago when she’d sing love songs, she declares “but I do now.”

The production is deft throughout. Most of what gets played on country radio now doesn’t sound very country, and yet Rimes and Brown have crafted an album that is unapologetically country: fiddles, mandolins and steel guitars weave in and out of the largely acoustic instrumentation with ease.  Yet, when it’s time to strip way down, such as on “What Have I Done” or the haunting “Where I Stood,” the effect is striking with an voice as potent as Rimes doing the heavy lifting. Top flight musicians such as guitarist Waddy Wachtel, pedal steel player Paul Franklin, bassist Willie Weeks and bassist Steve Jordan beautifully round out the sound.

In addition to Krauss and Tyminski, Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas shows up for a sassy, flirty duet on Buddy Miller and Julie Miller’s “Gasoline & Matches” that explodes in flames  (aided by a tasty Jeff Beck guitar solo) by the time it’s over. In a different time, it would have been a surefire No. 1.

Not everything works: while “Just A Girl Like You” is sprightly, the idea that Rimes would  extend an olive branch to Glanville (if this is indeed what it’s about) by proclaiming that she’s “just a girl like you/he may break my heart too/but that’s a chance I gotta take/just like you did) seems disingenuous at worst and incredibly naive at best... kind of like trying to be nice to the mean girl over and over again, when the best course of action is to just walk away.

Though the album is confessional, it sounds cathartic as well, as if in the safely of the writing room and the studio— far away from Twitter— Rimes was able to finally tell her side of the sorry without interruption.

But there’s also gold in gossip’s glittery hills, so Rimes had to know that by letting us peek into her aural journal, it guaranteed her album at least one listen. The good news is that “Spitfire” deserves many, many more listens than the initial one to satisfy the curiosity. Come for the sordid appeal, stay for the truly fine album.