Without fail, when a magazine will come up with a list of "Greatest Country Songs of All Time," two of the slots on the list will be filled with "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "When I Call Your Name." It's rare that one artist will cover either of those classics, but take a listen to LeAnn Rimes' latest Curb project, "Lady and Gentlemen," and you will find both songs there. A move that took a little bit of guts, perhaps?
"It's so funny that everyone says that -- well, most say the word balls," the singer tells Billboard.com. "I never really thought about that. My dad brought me up on classic country music, and my mother on Motown, and my Godmother on Broadway show tunes… so all across the board, I was influenced by anything that was just good. My dad's favorite woman was Patsy Cline, but other than that, it was all men."
That led Rimes to decide to record an album of covers, but of songs made famous by some of the legendary male artists of the genre.
"I wanted to pay homage to the originals, and make these songs my own at the end of the day, without offending the original men," she said. "I never thought that it was a ballsy move. I'm just thanking these men for these great songs that are obviously huge hits, and made an impact back in the day. We sent these out to many of the men -- the 'Gentlemen' on the record, and to hear Merle Haggard say that I floored him, or to hear that George Jones listened to the album from front to back and was emotionally moved by these songs is humbling. I guess it was a ballsy move, but I just thought in my heart that I love singing these songs, so why not do it. This kind of country music isn't around anymore."
Rimes says this style of country is still very close to her heart. "If I could sing anything these days, and it would be played, it would be classic country music," she admits. "If I could write anything, it would be in this vein. To me, it was just paying homage to these genius songs and these incredible men who weren't afraid to write about what they were living and sing about it. In this day and age, we're afraid of that. I don't think these men were… ever."
In addition to the afore-mentioned classics, Rimes also tackles a pair of Haggard classics - 1966's "The Bottle Let Me Down," and 1970's "I Can't Be Myself." LeAnn says the latter came as a suggestion from the album's producer, Vince Gill.
"Vince brought that one to me. Half the songs on the record were Vince and half were mine. That's his favorite song of all time. He's done it in rehearsals to play around with it. He's never recorded it, never touched it, but he said 'I think that your voice on the song would be amazing.'"
Not only are her vocals spellbinding on the song, she found herself identifying with the lyrics at the time of recording.
"I have to say the one thing about this record when I was recording it, is that I was going through the divorce at the time. I was in a very vulnerable space at the moment, and the lyrics hit home. My favorite line 'I believe the Lord knows I'm unhappy.' Vince and I looked at each other, and I said that's the best line I've ever heard."
When asked how Gill came to be involved with the project, she said "I called him, because I knew I wanted to do 'When I Call Your Name.' I really didn't have a producer for the record at that time. After explaining it to him, I asked him what he was doing for the next few months. He said 'nothing.' I asked him 'Why don't you produce this record. He thought I was joking. I told him I was serious, and we ended up doing it."
She allowed that she could think of nobody better for the project. "I loved working with him. I loved both of us pushing each other to different levels, and both of us appreciating each other as true artists. He always wanted to make sure that my vision came through on this album, which is always a rarity for most producers. They usually take on the project with an attitude of 'This is my album, and you're the voice.' He always wanted to make sure my vision for the album came through and that he was the facilitator for that. It was one of those odd and beautiful moments that don't happen much anymore."