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LeAnn Rimes

Spitfire – 2013 (Curb)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by LeAnn Rimes

Say what you will about the vocal chops of today's leading ladies of country - Miranda Lambert, Faith Hill or Martina McBride chief among them - but LeAnn Rimes is hands down, no doubt about it the best female vocalist in country music today.

And it will be bordering on a criminal act - thievery of the first order - if she doesn't sweep every award country music has to offer with her latest. For most of the bulk of the new millennium every Rimes album has been a treat. But top to bottom, front to back, a record does not get any better than this.

Rimes' pen has a serious bite to it as she takes the lead songwriting credits on eight cuts including the feisty title song. In fact, call it what you want - defiance, anger, just plain pissed off - but Rimes has her dander up. She also has an A-list of pickers lay down some amazing riffs, including Dan Tyminski, Stuart Duncan, Paul Franklin (his weepy steel guitar never sounded better than on Borrowed) and guitar legend Jeff Beck.

And then you have Rimes' always-flawless vocals. Despite being pitch-perfect from the first note of her debut single Blue as a 13-year-old, at 30, she delivers each word with unmatched depth and maturity. She gets downright Loretta Lynn-ish on the exasperated-with-the-bum You Ain't Right, does a furious duet with Rob Thomas on the Buddy and Julie Miller tune Gasoline and Matches, dips and sways on Borrowed and caresses the closing cut Who We Really Are.

So maybe it's not all about carrying home a box full of awards or playing the politics in an oh-so politically toxic industry. Yet, if it's all about what have you done for me lately, no one will question Rimes' commitment to her craft after spinning this disc.