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LeAnn Rimes' heart belongs to country

Which LeAnn Rimes would show up? The country singer? The crossover artist? Or the media star/author/actor who was all over Internet gossip sites this week in a bikini with a tattoo peaking out of those skimpy bottoms?

How about all three? With her feet in the first two and her soul squarely in the third one. The singer stepped onto the Lithia Amphitheater's sun-baked stage Friday night in a mini, hair pulled back, movie star shades and heels so high they needed a pilot's license.

She kicked off the show with "Crazy Women," a country rocker from her 2010 album "Ladies and Gentlemen," and she and her fine four-piece band got tighter on 2005's "Something's Gotta Give," a song that earned her a Grammy nomination for best female country vocal.

She took off those sky-scraping shoes for "Spitfire," the title tune from her soon-to-be-released new album. By the next song the shades came off.

So it went, shoes and shades off and on and off again, with the singer crooning from a stool or dancing around the stage barefoot. "Spitfire," a moody ballad, gave her room for the kind of rip-your-heart-out emoting that makes you think of Patsy Cline.

The Cline thing has been a blessing, and maybe a curse, to Rimes. On her first single, 1996's "Blue," she not only sounded like Cline, she was singing a song whose author says it was in fact originally written for Cline, who died before she could record it.

In Cline's early days in the music business the suits couldn't quite decide if she was country or pop. Both, was the answer. Rimes, too.

How many artists would could — or would — cover both Merle Haggard's "Tonight the Bottle Let me Down" and Prince's "Purple Rain"?

Rimes' soprano has a grittier edge than Cline's rich contralto. But Cline could sound like she was crying when she ordered a hamburger. But Rimes has more vocal range, at three-plus octaves, and more gears she can go to.

Nor could Cline rock like Rimes, who kicked major butt on songs like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's "Good Hearted Woman," dancing around and encouraging her band, which may remind you a bit of Bob Dylan's.

A new song from "Spitfire" was a tear-jerker with some fine pedal steel, which pulled Rimes back to country-country all night, even when the rock-ribbed rhythm sections was rocking.

"You Ain't Right" was a sassy rocker reminiscent of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business." She did a soulful "Blue," the weeper that put her on the map, and upbeat takes on the old miners' dirge "16 Tons" and the old John Anderson hit "Swingin'."

Rimes has evolved into a diva that marches to her own drum. What do you expect of somebody who covers The Beatles and Whitney Houston along with Dolly Parton, and lists Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland as musical influences along with Reba McIntire and Wynonna Judd?

Rimes is a quality singer with a fine band and great range. She can do universal, and she can do intimate. She can write, or make old material hers.

The show wasn't perfect. She talked too much between songs, which causes most of the audience, which hasn't heard the remarks she's responding to, to tune out. And the show mixed moods with no apparent plan rather than building a coherent show.

But she's still just 29. And when the beat comes down she's the real deal.