For the past four years, LeAnn Rimes’ name has been much talked about in the media—but not on account of her music. With her eleventh studio album, Spitfire, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter uses the opportunity to reveal her own side of the story. “I think a lot of people have written what they think my life should be for the past four and a half years,” says Rimes. “I didn’t think twice about telling the truth. What did I have to lose with telling the truth? Unfortunately there have been so many lies, that it felt freeing to be able to talk about it from my own emotional point of view, because I never really have. It came out through my music. It was an appropriate place for it to come out. There were no walls up anymore, it was just very transparent.”
Spitfire, which releases today (June 4), will be Rimes’ last album for Curb Records, concluding a partnership that began when Rimes, then 12, signed with the label in 1995. “They’ve been a good place to be for the last nearly 20 years, but I think it’s time to try something new,” says Rimes. “I don’t really know where I’m going to end up. I’m just starting to have those conversations. I’ve been there since I was 11; the whole landscape of the business has changed, so I’m learning and kind of exploring.”
It’s not just the landscape around her that has changed. Spitfire is easily Rimes’ most personal and transparent album to date, one that showcases her growth as a soul-bearing songwriter and a refined vocalist. Rimes co-wrote eight of the 13 tracks on the project.
Two harbingers that the project would be a musical open letter to the listening public were made apparent in late 2012, when Rimes released the gorgeous and mournful “What Have I Done?,” an apology of sorts to ex-husband Dean Sheremet, and the unflinchingly honest “Borrowed,” which delves into the circumstances that resulted in her romance and later marriage to husband Eddie Cibrian.
At the helm of the project is Rimes’ longtime producer, Darrell Brown. “I’ve known Darrell about 11 years now. He’s one of my closest friends. To write a record like this and it be so personal, it was nice to have that trust there, that level of trust.”
Brown provided a stable of co-writers that allowed Rimes to musically probe four years. Those writers included David Baerwald, Dan Wilson, John Shanks and Nathan Chapman. “Darrell is great at letting me go through the process without squashing everything,” says Rimes. “He knew I had a vision and helped me carry that out in the best way possible. There were moments where stuff was so personal that even the things he thought he knew after being so much a part of my life, I think it went a step past that as far as the personal talks we had. I think having him as a backup really allowed me to go there and trust myself and I think that was probably his influence. It was an intense record to write.”
Dan Tyminski and Alison Krauss lend background vocals to “What Have I Done?,” which was penned by Rimes, Brown and Baerwald. The track highlights Rimes’ earthy low vocal register. “My voice has changed so much over the years,” says the singer. “I like singing down there more than I do belting everything out because there is a little more intimacy about it and a little more emotion on it. That’s where I sing from now, I get to relax a little bit.” Brown accents her lower register by stripping the electric guitar work from most of the tracks.
In the course of the past few albums, including 2007’s Family, it seems Rimes has become most comfortable with sound influenced as much by blues and soul as country. Brown smartly surrounded the singer with musicians, including Paul Franklin, Steve Jordan, Dean Pearks, Tyminski, Waddy Wachtel and Willie Weeks, that were comfortable with the groove.
Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas joins for the bluesy “Gasoline and Matches.” “We’ve tried to work together and write together for years, but schedules didn’t work out. I love his voice and his phrasing and when I got this song, I knew I wanted to rock it out.”
Rimes doesn’t just allow listeners a glimpse into her personal feelings and revelations over the past year—she invites listeners to take the journey with her. She loosens the reigns on a range of emotions, spewing frustration at an unnamed target in the title track (written by Rimes, Brown and Baerwald) and surrendering to love in “You’ve Ruined Me” (written by Rimes with Brown and Shanks). Even songs not from Rimes’ own pen are touchstones for various seasons of the past four years, such as “Where I Stood,” written by Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins. “A friend of mine played that for me right when I was going through my divorce, so it was something that instantly connected with me. I knew when looking at this album as a whole that I wanted to tell that part of the story. I knew I couldn’t write that song any better. I love that song. It definitely resonated very deeply with me.”
While the introspective ballads will gain the most attention on the album, up-tempo songs such as “Just A Girl Like You” and “I Do Now” remind listeners that Rimes can play sassy as well as introspective. On “You Ain’t Right,” penned by Liz Rose, Chris Stapleton and Morgane Hayes, she channels frustration, amusement, grit, sass—and an off-color word or two. “I don’t think I’ve said ‘kiss my ass’ at any point and all that kind of stuff is on this record,” says Rimes. “At first I was like, ‘I can’t say that,’ but I had great supporters who said, ‘You are old enough, and you can say whatever the hell you want.’”
For Rimes, it was important that the project be more about LeAnn the person instead of LeAnn the public figure—that it be a mouthpiece for the feelings and words buried underneath the mountain of media speculation. “I set out to make a record that was honest and from a human point of view…not LeAnn Rimes the singer but the human being with something to say and life experience to share. I was really approaching it that way instead of the artist celebrity. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this album,” she says.
It is only the beginning, as Rimes has numerous ideas already in the works for her next album. “I have plenty of ideas that I haven’t been able to sit down and completely flesh out and write, but I will be able to after this whirlwind of things. I have the next record in theory; I have it on my iPhone. Darrell and I have definitely talked about things and started things, and I would love to do a duets album at some point. I have plenty of ideas, we’ll just see where I end up label-wise.”
For now, placing the focus back on her life as an artist is a first step. “I’m glad the conversation has changed. It’s sad that it has gone that way for so long, but it’s time. There’s no more to say. But there is plenty to say over here. It makes me happy to finally talk about music.”
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