LeAnn Rimes has grown up in public, and although she is hardly the first celebrity to do that, it seems something of revelation that, at age 33, she is celebrating the 20th year anniversary of her breakthrough hit.
Seriously. Remember Blue, the Patsy Cline-style crooner of a country hit? Rimes shook the world with it two decades ago this month. It was the kind of worldly tune — both in sentiment and in rich, regal vocal design — and even a practiced singer would struggle to convey the kind of natural ease that Rimes exhibited. The kicker, of course, is that Rimes was 13 when the song was a hit. It turns out, though, she was even younger when it was first recorded.
“I first cut Blue when I was 11, and then I re-recorded it when I was 13,” said the veteran singer, who performs this weekend at Renfro Valley. “But the version that you heard, and the one you still hear today, is the recording I did as an 11-year-old. The vocals were switched accidentally, and the 11-year-old recording was released. So what you’re hearing is me at 11.”
“I haven’t actually listened to the whole album (the same-titled recording that became Rimes’ debut album in 1996) in a really long time, but it definitely defines a moment in time. For Blue itself, it really is still such a timeless song.”
With the 20th anniversary of Blue, one has to ponder the obvious: How does an artist, even one with the performance authority and vocal chops of a practiced adult, address stardom at the dawn of her teen years?
“I don’t know if anybody knows how to handle that kind of success at that age,” Rimes said. “It was so instant and so big. I was so young that I don’t think I ever really understood how it could be such a pivotal moment. Still, that time really defined my career.”
Unfortunately for Rimes, so did the tabloid-ready adventures that came with stardom in subsequent years. The hits continued to pile up — especially crossover smashes including How Do I Live, I Need You and Can’t Fight the Moonlight. But so did all the offstage turbulence — lawsuits, divorce, family strife — that made Rimes a sensation with the tabloids.
“There are good things and bad aspects to success,” she said. “I want to give myself a little bit of credit here, because I’ve been very honest about the ups and downs in my life and hopefully through a lot of that I’ve been able to help people. Of course, there are a lot of people who think they know something about you when they’re reading something in a magazine in the grocery line. At the same time, that’s given me a real understanding and even sympathy for other human beings and what they go through.”
Today, Rimes sees her life and career from calmer turf. She recently signed a recording contract with RCA/UK in Europe and has begun work on a new album. Her current overseas single is a cover of The Story. The song was a single for folk/rock song stylist Brandi Carlile but became a bigger hit when re-cut by actress/singer Sara Ramirez in 2011 for the television drama Grey’s Anatomy (which features Ramirez as a cast member).
“There will be a completely different single in this country in the next few months, but I love The Story. I first heard it on Grey’s Anatomy and thought, ‘What’s that?’ But I’ve been a fan of Brandi for many years, too.”
Rimes said the anniversary of her earliest career success together with the next chapter of her recording career has proven an invigorating combination.
“I feel very grounded,” she said. “I’m at a good place right now.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.