LeAnn Rimes

This Woman

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LeAnn Rimes has taken so many twists and turns in her career that it's hard to know what to expect whenever she delivers a new record. Is she returning to the neo-traditional country that made her a star at 14? Is she singing country-pop, or trying to be a straight-up mainstream pop singer? Since she's dabbled in all of these styles since her 1996 debut, Blue, suffering upheavals in her management and label in the process, it's hard to tell exactly where Rimes fits into either country or pop music in 2005, nearly a full decade after her commercial breakthrough. It's even harder to tell if Rimes has a clear musical identity outside of her powerhouse voice and a desire to keep selling records. As long as she kept making solid records, this vagueness didn't really matter, but her 2002 stab at dance-pop and adult contemporary pop arrived too late and was too awkward to succeed, which was quite a surprise after her lithe crossover with the Coyote Ugly soundtrack. Its successor, 2005's This Woman, is a corrective measure, stripping away the sexiness and post-Britney pretensions of Twisted Angel and steering toward the middle ground between adult contemporary and contemporary country. This is territory that Shania Twain and Faith Hill abandoned as they became slick, sexy superstars, and it suits Rimes well. The tunes on This Woman are on a smaller, friendlier scale than those on Come On Over or Breathe, but their modesty is appealing, particularly because the melodies are sturdy and the production is polished without being too glossy. There are no knockouts here, but on a song-for-song basis, This Woman is her strongest album yet, not least because it's the record where Rimes sounds the most comfortable, where she's not yearning for pop hits or aping her idols. This is a sound and format that fits LeAnn Rimes, and with any luck she'll continue in this vein for a while -- but given her track record, it's reasonable to doubt that she will, so enjoy This Woman while it rides the country and adult pop charts.

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