Her last album for Curb, and possibly buried because of it, Spitfire sputtered out of the gate in 2013, appearing first on various digital services -- first in Europe and Australia, then in the U.S. -- before popping up in America on CD form halfway through the year. It's unfortunate that the release of Spitfire is so confused, as it's one of her better records, seizing the same adventurous spirit of 2011's Vince Gill-produced Lady & Gentlemen but going further, as she's now co-writing originals with some seriously skilled songwriters, including Dan Wilson, Sarah Buxton, and David Baerwald. When she's not collaborating, Rimes demonstrates excellent taste in cover material -- she records Missy Higgins' "Where I Stood," kicks up dust on Liz Rose/Chris Stapleton/Morgane Hayes' rockabilly raver "You Ain't Right," and gets down and dirty on Buddy & Julie Miller's "Gasoline and Matches," trading verses with Rob Thomas then letting Jeff Beck run wild -- which gives the record dimension if not a singular momentum. Then again, narrative drive tends to be overrated: the sum of Spitfire may not be greater than the parts, but the parts themselves are mighty fine, showcasing every one of Rimes' strengths from classic country belter to stylish contemporary pop singer. As a full album, Spitfire meanders a bit, never establishing a momentum that carries it through, but as individual tracks, it shines, capturing Rimes at her best as a pure country singer, a neo-rockabilly filly, a savvy crossover pop artist, and an understated troubadour who knows how to camouflage her emotions underneath it all. Spitfire isn't perfectly polished -- that's how you know Curb isn't banking on its success -- but that's one of the reasons it's satisfying: all the loose ends, the deliberate detours into sounds both old and new, illustrate Rimes' range and her skill, as she never sounds uneasy in any of these settings. It's not perfect -- it's too long, its sequencing is haphazard -- and yet all the music on Spitfire resonates, every song suggesting an avenue Rimes could pursue the next time out.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine