Though she’s only 35, it feels like LeAnn Rimes has been around forever, because she achieved so much at such an early age. Her professional debut album, 1996’s Blue, came out when she was just thirteen years old, when most people are worrying about little more than their hair, clothes and schoolyard crushes.
Rimes, on the other hand, was embarking on a career that would see her sell an extraordinary amount of records. Before Blue, she had put out a couple of independently released country albums, but Blue reached number three on the regular Billboard chart and number one on the country chart. Critics asked if so much attention would be paid to Rimes without the “teenager” gimmick, but over the course of the next two decades, she would make a mockery of that.
Rimes, who burst onto the scene as a country singer, has gradually transitioned into the pop world, and today, like Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson, she can happily straddle those two two genres balletically. She can maneuver herself from one world to the other, but most of the time she has one foot in each.
“It’s funny, because I think when people believe they have me pinned down, I’m the defiant one who goes the opposite way,” Rimes says. “For me, I’m a vocalist, a songwriter and an artist. I’ve been around for so long, it depends on where you plop me in my career. Do you remember me from when I was thirteen, or [from] Remnants? I think something gets embedded in people’s minds, and that’s forever what I am. I think now more than ever, those lines have become very blurred for me, and people just connect with the music. At least that’s what I hope.”
Remnants was the album that she released a year ago, her sixteenth studio album including the oddities and Christmas records, and while it didn’t explode like Blue, it performed admirably around the world, and, most important, her fans seem to like it. There’s certainly a maturity to the record and a sense of freedom that she partly puts down to working with her new label, RCA.
“I’ve had artistic freedom [before], but at the same time, with my old label [Curb Records], I was contractually bound to meet certain things,” Rimes says. “This time, I’ve really been able to have that freedom. It’s nice to have people who trust your artistry and respect your talent and don’t try to put too much of a label on it, and say, ‘Go make the record you want to make.’ It’s very rare, and I’m grateful people have been in my life who respect my talent and not try to box me in, especially these days. I’m a vocalist. I love all kinds of music. I love to sing everything. I like not to be bored. So I love to play. Music should never have boundaries, so it's nice to be able to play around.”
Now, it’s fair to say that the words “musical maverick” and “experimental” won’t leap into everyone’s minds when considering LeAnn Rimes. One common perception is that she produces a watered-down version of country, something inauthentic and wholly manufactured, and that she cares more about shifting units than writing and recording quality music. And, hey, we can’t promise that was never the case. But LeAnn Rimes in 2017-18 is an artist determined to grow, to soak in all of the influences and experiences that she can, and to put out shit-hot pop country.
“In the last ten years, I really have changed,” she says. “Twenty-five to thirty-five is a big deal. I lived life. With Spitfire [her 2013 album], I started making music unapologetically. I started to really be honest and not hold back from the darkest of the dark to the lightest of the light. I didn’t edit myself as much as I used to, and I still don’t. I started to realize that when I make music for myself, it’s even more of a success, rather than trying to figure out what you think people like or what you think they liked last time. That just gets really discombobulating in so many ways. I’ve learned to start with myself first, please myself, and I think that just pours out into the music. I think that also you get something more original that way.
Rimes says that with every new record, she learns something new about herself and, at this point in her life and career, it’s an honor that anybody wants to hear what she releases. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the fact that she was essentially a child star, Rimes is remarkably humble and level-headed. She’s easy to talk to – charming, even — and open in conversation.
“I think these days, the things I’m talking about and wanting to put out into the world are of importance, and I hope I can put some hope and love into a world that desperately needs it,” she says. “As an artist, I think that now more than ever, I’m more aware of what I’m putting out. Really making that effort to put something out there that’s meaningful.”
Who can argue with that after the year we’ve just lived through, even if it does come across a touch cheesy? Rimes doesn’t care if she cheddars it up from time to time. She also knows that having had so much commercial success at thirteen years old, it would prove to be a frustrating endeavor to chase units for the rest of her life. Instead, she’s pleasing herself.
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“I’m seeing where I can go and where I haven’t gone yet.” she says. “Commercially, the whole business has changed, and being in this for 24 years, I’ve seen it go down every route it possibly could. Now I think it’s about reaching people, having people discover the music. There aren’t any boundaries with music anymore. Streaming is a big deal these days. People who wouldn’t necessarily discover your music are starting to discover it. New fans from all over the world. It’s about connecting. These days, that’s my goal with everything. To be as authentic as possible and to connect with people on a meaningful level.”
Those are aims and ambitions that should be applauded. And Denver will get that chance when Rimes performs here this week. She's been playing here since she gigged at the Grizzly Rose at thirteen, and she looks back on those spit-n-sawdust days fondly.
“You guys have always been really good to me,” she says. “I’m excited. We’ve been having a great time so far out on the tour. We play a lot of my Christmas music and some hits, too. It’s a diverse show, very intimate, and we have a great time.”
LeAnn Rimes plays with Lara Ruggles at 8 p.m. Monday, December 18, at the Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, 303-615-6838.