LeAnn Rimes debuts at Belly Up in Aspen on Saturday | AspenTimes.com

LeAnn Rimes debuts at Belly Up in Aspen on Saturday

Mark Sells
Special to The Aspen Times

Singer LeAnn Rimes makes her Belly Up debut tonight.

At 13 years of age, LeAnn Rimes became one of the youngest country-music stars ever. Like Tanya Tucker before her, Rimes demonstrated a vocal maturity beyond her years, releasing the 1996 breakout hit "Blue," a heartache-induced ballad that drew comparisons to Patsy Cline.

Her debut album, also titled "Blue," hit No. 1 on the country chart and sold more than 8 million copies. A year later, "Blue" made Rimes the youngest Grammy winner ever, as she took home prizes for Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

"It probably wasn't until 'Blue' came out that it hit me that I have this talent that's kind of rare," she told Interview.

That rare talent has built a remarkable 20-year career: 37 million albums sold and the longest-running single ever on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, "How Do I Live." Rimes has covered songs by The Beatles, Whitney Houston and Prince, recorded with Elton John, starred in movies and TV series, and even written various books: several children's books and the novel "Holiday in Your Heart."

She's also experienced lesser moments. After her parents' divorce, she sued her father and former co-manager for taking more than $7 million from her. She sued her record label, asking to be released from her contract and asking the company to return the rights to her music. She checked into an inpatient treatment center to help cope with anxiety and stress. And there's the public controversy around her extramarital affair with actor Eddie Cibrian. (It was announced recently that Rimes and Cibrian, now married, will star in a scripted reality show to air early next year).

Rimes has persevered musically. Her latest album, this year's "Spitfire," is an account of hard-knock lessons she has learned over the course of her roller-coaster life — a life that equates to one great, big country song.

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Rimes answered questions in advance of her show tonight at Belly Up.

Q: You've performed in Colorado over the years. What keeps you coming back?

A: Oh, it's so beautiful! My husband and I usually go at least once a year to Aspen for vacation. And it's usually in the winter.

Q: At what point did you start feeling comfortable with your voice?

A: Recently? (Laughs.) To be honest, it's been 20 years in the making. And it really wasn't until "Spitfire" that I began to feel like I had settled into something that felt like me, that was uniquely mine. The album bridges so many different genres of music. Even though it's more country than anything I've done in a long time, there's a lot of soul and a lot of different things in my voice from people who have influenced me over the years.

Q: You've been compared to Patsy Cline and have covered her songs. What do you admire about her?

A: Obviously, she has an incredible voice, but outside of that, Patsy Cline was one of those special singers who could make you feel everything that she was singing. Many people can hit notes, but if they can't make you feel what they're singing, it's somewhat pointless. Patsy was the first that I learned that from. Then I got into music like Janis Joplin. Janis didn't have the best voice of all time, but she had the same ability — an incredible way of drawing you in.

Q: What's helped you stay connected to music all of these years without getting burned out, bored or falling into the traps of early stardom?

A: Nothing has given my life purpose like music. It definitely has its ups and downs. But the feeling of being able to effortlessly walk onto the stage, forget everything and simply get lost — I never wanted anything to overshadow that even though I've had some things in my life that have tried. The fame and celebrity comes with the territory, but the fight in me is because I always love to sing.

Q: Speaking of overshadowing, country music has built a reputation around real-life drama. Why do you think you've been singled out? And how have you managed to keep your head above water without letting the detractors get to you?

A: I don't know. I ask myself that quite often. But I couldn't have made it this far without being surrounded by a lot of good people. They knock me down a few notches and help keep me grounded.

And I really try to take care of myself and be honest. Like, "I'm not doing so well right now — who can I reach out to now for help?" It's a hard thing to do, and it's a very hard thing to write something like "Borrowed," where you really have to look at yourself, take inventory and be honest.

Q: "I Do Now" is a terrific song about when you're young and you connect with how a song sounds. But later, after you've had some life experiences under your belt, you connect more with the lyrics. As an artist, how important is it to have those real-life experiences and be able to connect with what you're singing?

A: It's very important. Of course, I didn't understand that at 13, but then again, I thought I knew everything at that age. I would get really offended when people would say, "You have no clue what you're singing!" But I knew they were right.

Obviously, I wouldn't have been able to write an album like "Spitfire" if I didn't live through those experiences. I might have been able to write a song that conveyed a particular feeling, but there's a whole different level that comes with it when you live through something.

Q: There's a lot of unfiltered thoughts and emotions running through the album with songs like "Borrowed," "You've Ruined Me" and "God Takes Care of Your Kind." Was this album and process the beginning of a new you? A type of unblemished sincerity and truth?

A: Oh yeah. I don't think I can approach music any other way. I spit out the truth and we recorded everything as honestly as we could and then took a step back, listened to the whole album and tried to determine what we were missing and what we hadn't said. It was almost like making a film and piecing it all together. I've never made a record like this in my entire career, but it's how I will do it from here on out.

LeAnn Rimes, with IF Birds could fly opening

Saturday night at 9

Belly Up