The country music industry has pretty much dropped LeAnn Rimes, and if you believe the hype, then it’s because she had an affair with Eddie Cibrian. According to the self-righteous standards of some country fans—the same fans who listen to songs about getting wasted every weekend—that indiscretion makes her a whore who shouldn’t be famous. Then there’s the fact that LeAnn Rimes has the audacity to be a woman, when country music typically only has room for three solo women at a time. And with Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Miranda Lambert all making hits right now, that leaves LeAnn down on the corner, singing for nickels in her second-hand stockings.
And of course, homegirl hasn’t had a pop hit since “Can’t Fight the Moonlight,” and that was a billion years ago. But you know what? That has not stopped LeAnn Rimes from making good music. In fact, her music has gotten better since the world flipped off her spotlight. Just listen to “Borrowed,” the devastating new single from her upcoming album Spitfire.
This song is about loving a man you can only borrow from his real life. A few stolen moments, and then you have to give him back to his wife. Let’s forget that this song may be a reference to her affair—though she did marry Cibrian a few years ago—and just focus on how spare and haunting it is. Almost every time she sings the word “borrowed,” Rimes goes into a broken high note, like she’s choking with emotion. And in the verses, she’s doing some serious storytelling with her vocal choices, like how she drops into a lower register when she feels especially sad about being the other woman. (Or at least, that’s the story her vocals tell me.)
I’ve been startled by how much I’ve grown to like LeAnn Rimes’ music. Back in the 90s, she wasn’t for me, because when she was a teenage sensation, she just belted the shit out of everything. It was so strident, and besides, a 15 year-old girl had no business singing about heartbreak she couldn’t understand. But as an adult, she has matured into a nuanced artist who is a model of vocal restraint. Just listen to how well she delivered “What I Cannot Change” on the Today show. It’s another gorgeous ballad, only this time it’s about forgiving yourself—and in fact loving yourself—for being human.
It’s a shame that the world has stopped paying attention to LeAnne Rimes, just as she’s making some of the best country music out there. But we can listen, dammit! So keep being sad and lovely, LeAnn. If nothing else, I’ve got your back.
Mark Blankenship also loves Sugarland’s “Stay,” another acoustic ballad about being the other woman. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.