Monday, January 25, 2010

Leann Rimes & me (& 2800 other friends)

Here's the review that ran on the Gazette's Soundboard Page over this past weekend from the LeAnn Rimes concert:


LeAnn Rimes, Friday 1/22/2010, Arnold Hall, United States Air Force Academy

By the time she was 21, LeAnn Rimes had already recorded eight music albums, won Country Music Association and Grammy awards, had songs or whole albums listed in various top-10 music industry charts, and then proceeded to release a Greatest Hits album. Her styles over those years and since have been identified as influenced by Patsy Cline, Barbra Streisand, Wynonna Judd, and Reba McEntire, and she has crossed out of Country Music into Pop, released at least one rock album overseas, and crossed back into country. More than once.

So when Rimes appeared at Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy Friday night, she came with the poise, polish and repertoire of entertainers twice her age. Sometimes looking the perfect representation of a mature female performer, other times looking like (and dancing around the stage like) a high school-age babysitter with a cute and infectious charm and smile, she delivered a nearly flawless and solid 90 minute performance to a near capacity crowd.

Criticized several months ago while on tour for being drowned-out by her band, on Friday night her voice was strong and pure and delivered exceptionally well over her accompaniment, even during raucous up-tempo numbers.

Opening with “Criminal” off her new yet to be released next album, she methodically moved through “Something’s Gotta Give” followed by “Family” and “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way.” She talked to the audience a little bit, mentioning she was working on two albums soon to be released, one being produced by Vince Gill. One of the songs on the new album called “Gasoline and Matches” started off sounding more like a boogie-woogie number you’d hear from a blues performer on the Chitlin‘ Circuit, but it quickly evolved into a full-on Country motif followed closely by “Good Hearted Woman”. A stool was brought out for LeAnn to sit on during “What I Cannot Change” which utilizes some heavy steel guitar work in an attempt to mask this pop-ballad as a country music song (can you say “crossover”?). “God Takes Care of Your Kind” followed before breaking into “Can’t Fight The Moonlight,” a popular fan-favorite song featured in the movie “Coyote Ugly” (in which LeAnn sung the four or five numbers lip-synched by the star of the movie).

The band was (so far) perfectly tight, and the production quality of the performance up until this point so perfectly reproduced songs from LeAnn’s recordings, that I was getting lulled into a sense of complacency about the concert. But when she hit the chorus of “Moonlight” I realized it actually gave me the willies and made the hairs on my arms stand up!

Songs from old and new albums continued including “Commitment,” “I Need You,” “Nothin ‘Bout Love Makes Sense,” “How Do I Live (Without You).” It was around this point that I realized her song selection contained pointed and direct references to her recent marital problems and love-life that have been so much in the press the last six months.

The other thing that really interesting: although LeAnn Rimes is known for her “emotional expression,” a term describing a style of singing that in her case encompasses a vast range of high and low pitches, she definitely has a tonal sweet-spot in her voice. Her high-end is good, but her mid-range is absolutely perfect and most of her songs play to this strength.

The night was not without some rowdy cadet behavior encouraged by LeAnn herself, and at one point a cadet threw a T-Shirt on stage with a hand-written invitation to “Ring Dance,” the formal dress ball that two-degree Air Force Academy cadets (juniors) throw themselves on the day they receive their class rings. LeAnn seemed stunned at first at then shyly admitted she had never been to a prom before “and I just might have to take you up on that. I’ve got your number!” resulting in cataclysmic hoots and applause.

Only occasionally did LeAnn’s voice falter as she went through a Patty Griffin cover, “Let Him Fly.” She dedicated the up-tempo ballad “Strong” to the service men and women there in the audience, and then sang “Got You To Get Me,” and “Nothing Better To Do,” a fantastic number. LeAnn’s fun “youthful” side was coming out as she increasingly bounded and danced around stage during instrumental parts of these songs.

LeAnn pulled out a “Challenge Coin” and said somebody needed to bring her a drink if they didn’t have their coins with them — something that two cadets willingly obliged her with moments later, handing her two different drinks onstage within seconds of each other. Another new song “You Ruined Me” followed as the final number until LeAnn and her band were called back out for an encore.

LeAnn treated everyone with “Blue,” her first really big hit which invokes the spirit and vocal emotion of Patsy Cline, before finishing the evening for good with a big-finish version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison.” This was a great night of covers and original material that everyone I talked to afterward had been very happy to be part of.

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