LeAnn Rimes

Family

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LeAnn Rimes planned to succeed This Woman, her 2005 return to country, with a pop album called Whatever We Wanna in 2006, but as This Woman continued to sell steadily in the U.S., that album wound up seeing the light of day only in Europe. Instead of issuing Whatever We Wanna in America in 2007, Rimes released an entirely different, brand-new album called Family, a record that was closer to country than her 2006 Europop excursion. Of course, this makes it tailor-made for the American market, where she is still seen primarily as a country singer, not a pop star, but Family isn't quite a crass commercial move. Instead, it's her first album of all original material (many co-written with Dean Sheremet, Blair Daly, and Darrell Brown in some combination or another), which makes this a bit of a relative risk, as Rimes has been known as song interpreter, not a songwriter, in the decade she's been recording. Then again, Rimes hasn't exactly been complacent during those ten years: she's recorded everything from classic country to dance-pop, dabbling in adult contemporary crossovers, inspirational music, and even rockabilly along the way. She's learned a lot in those explorations, as evidenced by Family, which may not touch on everything she's done but is surprisingly far-ranging underneath its soft country-pop veneer. There may be just a bit too much of the smooth crossover material here, particularly on the first half of the record, but beneath that gloss there are some sturdy songs, songs that play like a blend of Reba McEntire and early Dixie Chicks. Also, as the album rolls on, Rimes loosens up, first with the sunny party tune "Good Friend and a Glass of Wine," then eventually rolling to the swaggering Marc Broussard duet "Nothin' Wrong," which kicks up some genuine dirt, and then culminating in the slow, soulful crawl of "One Day Too Long." On songs like these, Rimes illustrates her range as a singer along with some true strength as a writer, and they help make Family a canny blend of the commercial and the confessional -- an album that feels heartfelt, yet is as accessible and enjoyable as her best records.

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