Vintage Album Review – LeAnn Rimes – “Blue”
I don’t care that shortly after the release of this album, LeAnn Rimes immediately began transitioning towards pop. I don’t care what kind of dirt the tabloids dug up on her in subsequent years that have left some fans with a sour taste in their mouths. All I know is that Blue by LeAnn Rimes, which is enjoying its 25th Anniversary in 2021, is one of the best country music records to be released in the 90’s era, if not ever. And to this day, so many of the songs of Blue still hold up, and so do the lessons it taught us about country music.
The story of Blue is pretty improbable. Originally born in Jackson, Mississippi, but raised in Garland, TX, LeAnn Rimes was an accomplished singer touring around the country with her father by the time she was 9. When she met the legendary local Dallas DJ Bill Mack (who died in 2020), a cross generational nexus occurred, and when Rimes was 11, she recorded the song “Blue” that Bill Mack had written and recorded for himself way back in 1958 for Starday Records.
Though popular lore continues to get it wrong, “Blue” was not originally written for Patsy Cline. The reason the rumor persists is because LeAnn sounds so similar to Patsy when singing the song, and the production and instrumentation is so indicative of the Cline era in country, you don’t want to believe any different. But even without a direct connection to Patsy, what “Blue” did was what awaken people’s yearning for that classic country sound, which as we can attest here in 2021 is constantly getting lost in country music, even though when it’s given an opportunity, people often love it.
“Blue” wasn’t “neotraditional,” it was classic country through and through, and became its own phenomenon. Though it only reached #10 on the country charts since radio really didn’t know what to do with it, the song ended up being nominated for the 1996 CMA Song of the Year, winning the ACM Song of the Year, and it also won the Grammy for Best Country Song for Bill Mack, and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for LeAnn Rimes. Today, “Blue” is nothing short of a country standard, and all of this is from a song that was nearly 40-years-old when it rose to peak commercial prominence, and was released by a performer who was 13-years-old at the time.
But the story of the album Blue ranges far beyond one song. It was a strikingly classic record for the time, with numerous stabs at heartbreak beyond the title track. The second song on the album “Hurt Me” picks up where “Blue” leaves off, which is revitalizing the classic approach to a country music tearjerker, and allowing the exquisite and incredibly mature voice of LeAnn Rimes to soar. The album ends with another stone cold emotional haymaker in “Fade To Blue.”
LeAnn Rimes even recorded a version of Tex Ritter’s “Cattle Call” for the record, and with the legendary Eddy Arnold. LeAnn’s yodels and moans were like something that hadn’t been heard in country music in decades. A later version of the record also included a rendition of “Unchained Melody,” which became a #3 hit in country music on its own.
But what makes Blue so cool is not just that it found success with old songs from such a young singer. It’s that old songs were made cool to a younger audience, while the older audience who felt abandoned by country music of the era found someone they could root for as well.
Blue saved country music in its time, and one of the ways it did so was by also delivering songs that were relevant to its time. The only #1 single from the album (and surprisingly, the only #1 single LeAnn Rimes ever minted in country) came in the form of “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” It was the combination of a classic country theme and a bit more of a contemporary approach that once again appealed to both sides of country music’s generational divide, and resulted in a smash that holds up even today, despite the treble-heavy mix.
Of course, with LeAnn Rimes only being 13 when Blue was released, some of the material was hard to believe coming from this young woman’s personal experiences like “My Baby” and “Good Lookin’ Man.” But if you closed your eyes, and it was impossible to not believe every word being sung because of the power and emotion behind LeAnn’s voice.
Another Top 5 song from the album called “The Light In Your Eyes” seems less LeAnn singing from experience, and more like something she was trying to tell herself as widespread mainstream success put her squarely in the spotlight where she would have to learn how to transition from a girl to a woman. Featuring steel guitarists Bruce Bouton and Paul Franklin, fiddle by Larry Franklin, and a bunch of other ace players, Blue eventually went on to be certified 6x Platinum.
But in some ways LeAnn Rimes became a victim of her own success. Blue was so victorious as a debut album, the only direction up was pop, so that is where LeAnn went. It probably also didn’t help that her father Wilbur at times was worried more about the money than protecting his daughter, and she was signed to the spurious Curb Records, who she would go to war with in subsequent years. In 2000, LeAnn would sue both her father and Curb. As we see over and over in entertainment, a young and impressionable performer can become troubled in their adult life by all the attention and fawning they receive at an impressionable age.
LeAnn Rimes went on to have more successful singles in her career, including 1997’s “How Do I Live.” While LeAnn’s version of the song was climbing the pop charts and eventually peaking at #2, Trisha Yearwood was singing a more country version, which reached #2 in country. Both singles were released on the same day: May 23rd, 1997. It was quite the spectacle, and LeAnn’s success with the song in pop hastened her transition away from country.
But LeAnn Rimes never had a more successful album in her career than Blue. No different than the debut albums of guys such as George Strait and Randy Travis, Blue shocked country music by being unapologetically traditional, and wildly successful. It awakened a sound that had been allowed to go dormant in country music, but when exposed to the masses, resonated widely.
When the discussion turns to the women of country and 90’s nostalgia, it often centers around Shania, Trisha, and Martina. But when speaking of albums specifically, Blue by LeAnn Rimes might be the best overall selection from the era. It was also an album that once again proved that certain sounds and sentiments in country music are timeless. Just as listeners in the 90’s yearned for the sound of Patsy Cline, many listeners today yearn for the sound of the 90’s, which for LeAnn Rimes, sounded like the 50’s and 60’s, or like country music has always sounded, or at least, like country music is supposed to.
Two Guns Up (9/10)
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James Hooker, The Fastest Man In Pompeii
October 11, 2021 @ 9:24 am
Thanks Trigger. The Two Guns up are well deserved.
October 11, 2021 @ 9:49 am
Oh, please do more vintage album reviews.
October 11, 2021 @ 11:55 am
I agree I really enjoy these looks back. Keep up the great work Trigger!
October 11, 2021 @ 9:50 am
Get it, Trig.
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
October 11, 2021 @ 9:51 am
I’ve enjoyed her as a pop performer as well…she can stand toe to toe with just about anyone in the genre. But she returned to country in 2005 with a terrific album called This Woman. Not as traditional as Blue, but it definitely worked as well as anything else released in 2005.
October 11, 2021 @ 3:47 pm
Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way = GOLD
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
October 12, 2021 @ 7:41 am
YES…and Some People
October 11, 2021 @ 10:32 am
Great album that gets overlooked now. Mid-nineties was a pretty good period for Country music. LeAnn followed the $$$ as you would expect. Ironic that she has vocal powers along the lines of Mandy Barnett, but moved on to pop, hit it big, made the big money, meanwhile Barnett stayed true to the music and her art, and never got the same level of fame or money. Kinda says it all.
October 11, 2021 @ 11:31 am
Another thing that puzzles me is that along with her style and voice, Mandy Barnett was a damn fine looking woman in 1996. She should have been a much bigger star.
October 11, 2021 @ 11:36 am
It is a little-known fact that several tracks recorded for the album “Blue,” did not make the final cut. Among them are:
Red, Red Wine
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Ebony and Ivory
Paint it Black
October 11, 2021 @ 12:16 pm
And The Purple People-Eater.
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
October 11, 2021 @ 3:48 pm
She did, however, record Purple Rain later
October 11, 2021 @ 6:54 pm
Did not know that.
Very poor decision on her part.
October 12, 2021 @ 9:30 am
Well if it’s good enough for Dwight Yoakam… and he did a totally killer super country version of that song. A song is a song people, it’s generally “how” you play it that makes it country.
October 11, 2021 @ 1:19 pm
Loved this album was really great, another song I really liked NOTHING ABOUT LOVE MAKES SENCE. I don’t remember which album that was, but still a really great song that I liked of hers. Would love to hear her do another country album.
February 16, 2022 @ 3:08 pm
Leann Rimes is the best but fails to get credit she so rightfully deserves.
Country music today isn’t country.
LeAnn Rimes Spitfire is so country and a terrific cd. Hopefully she’ll record more like that.
October 11, 2021 @ 3:44 pm
I heard “Blue” so often on the radio growing up that I came to hate it thoroughly. It was impossible to avoid.
Fast forward to 2015-ish when I heard it again with fresh ears, and oh my, what a song! And what a delivery. Stone-cold dyed in the wool, true blue through and through country masterpiece! No wonder the radio wouldn’t leave it alone!
October 12, 2021 @ 3:18 pm
Love practically everything she records. However, sitting on top of the world, this woman, whatever we wanna and remnants are by far her best albums.
October 11, 2021 @ 6:44 pm
Kind of off topic, but didn’t know where to put this. Trigger, when you review an album vintage or new do you physically happen to have the copy of the album? If so, I am sure you music collection is quite large. I have always wondered. Keep up the great work!
October 11, 2021 @ 7:20 pm
I do happen to have this one on CD. I also have a decent vinyl collection, but nothing out-of-control. With new albums, sometimes I have a physical copy when I review it, sometimes I don’t. You would be surprised how much bad indie rock I get autoshipped under the guise it’s “Americana,” while some of the biggest names in independent country, I can’t beg a physical copy of. But if it’s on an independent label, I usually am able to get my hands on an advanced digital copy. Major labels are a bit more hit and miss. Free music stopped being a fun perk years ago. Now it’s a part time job just trying to keep all the submissions in order.
October 11, 2021 @ 9:07 pm
Interesting and thank you!! I have wondered that for a good while! Guess some find it hard to see Saving Country Music is country music not bad rock! lol Thanks again for the response!
October 11, 2021 @ 11:04 pm
its an impressive album by an impressive singer that has stood the test of time.
October 12, 2021 @ 2:17 am
The saddest thing is that Rimes never issued another album like “Blue” ever again. The made her debut with this great collection of fantastic versions of classic country songs and then never did anything like it ever again. Everything since then has been a non-starter for me, pop dreck. What a waste of such a great voice.
Country When Country Wasn't Cool
October 12, 2021 @ 7:36 am
Actually, she did. She released an album in 2011 called Lady & Gentlemen, where she covered classic country songs by men. Some of the songs are He Stopped Loving Her Today, 16 Tons, The Bottle Let Me Down, and When I Call Your Name. There’s a new version of Blue and one contemporary song called Give, which was a charity single. It’s a really good album. She also released a cover of Crazy on her first Greatest Hits CD.
October 12, 2021 @ 12:56 pm
Her self-titled album from 1999 was pretty good as well. It was a covers album for the most part.
October 12, 2021 @ 4:02 am
I see LeAnn in Peoria Illinois she be coming famous 26 year ago
October 12, 2021 @ 8:51 am
conviction . its all about conviction no matter the song . lee ann sings with conviction and always has . yes ….BLUE was a great album of songs but it was also a clinic in delivering songs with conviction ……with a talent and a voice that ,even at 13 , understood that. so many contemporary ”artists’ lack that critical ingredient . george could sing the phone book cuz he had conviction . but he didn’t . he had great material AND conviction . so few contemporary ”artists” understand the importance of resonating with a listener with simple conviction . you have to make me believe you MEAN what you are singing . patsy had it , trisha had it …martina had it . conviction seems to have become a lost part of that all-important timeless ability to connect with a listener on an emotional level .
October 12, 2021 @ 9:52 am
…thank you for so perfectly explaining the weakness in what passes for artistry these days. When I listen to Ronnie Milsap deliver, “It Was Almost Like a Song” – or Tanya Tucker’s performance of “Soon” – I believe that’s the conviction you’ve described – in every single note.
October 12, 2021 @ 10:37 am
Conviction & passion in everything you do
October 12, 2021 @ 11:24 am
Conviction and what I call ‘soul’. Seems to be very little out there these nowadays.
Of course, I’ve also heard where an artist will try too hard to inject conviction and it comes out sounding phoney. A lot of “singer-songwriters” sound that way to me.
October 12, 2021 @ 9:31 am
Great review. Can I request a review of another vintage album (Keith Whitely’s final studio album “I Wonder Do You Think Of Me”)? Not as highly touted as his “Don’t Close Your Eyes” record but to me it was a masterpiece. Thanks!
October 12, 2021 @ 9:58 am
I talked to her at the Nashville airport luggage carousel a couple years ago. I dont think anybody else realized who she was. Or, maybe they didnt think she would be flying commercial.
October 12, 2021 @ 12:08 pm
I remember when this came out because I was like maybe 2 years older than her. And I didn’t understand WHAT was going on with the sound. It was foreign to me at the time with the more pop leaning material I was into. But damn it, I came back to it later when I was more schooled in country and I feel nobody in the 90s outside MAYBE Pam Tillis put out more twang for the buck on a mainstream country record in the 90s. Most 90s material (which I like) is just SLIGHTLY too polished. Not this record.
October 12, 2021 @ 3:38 pm
Do you have any plans to review the new Larry fleet record “stack of records” ? I didn’t know him before this it’s dang good. I’ve had 7 of them to my Spotify playlist and usually I’ll do like 3.
October 12, 2021 @ 7:49 pm
The Larry Fleet album is on my radar. So many albums, so little time.
October 16, 2021 @ 6:50 pm
‘She is an awsome singer on all her songs
October 16, 2021 @ 7:28 pm
She was overhyped because she sang really loud for a young girl and did a pale imitation of Patsy Cline. I still remember when her and Trisha Yearwood released the same song “ how do I live?” and Trisha easily blew the little girl out of the water,
October 23, 2021 @ 11:35 pm
Did she have elocution lessons to lose that thick drawl and make her more palatable for a pop audience? Ava Gardner famously did to turn a Carolina tobacco farm girl into a glamorous movie star.