By Beth Johnson
Updated November 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

LeAnn Rimes is all of 17, but five albums into her career, she’s already gone back to her roots by covering 11 of what her new CD jacket calls ”some of the greatest songs ever written.” In this case, it means country standards, including five by Patsy Cline, whose sound Rimes so uncannily replicated in her star-making debut single, ”Blue.” After years of living with Cline comparisons, Rimes (and producer/dad Wilbur Rimes) embraces them with oh-so-faithful renditions of ”Crazy,” complete with its tinkling piano, as well as ”I Fall to Pieces” and ”Leavin’ on Your Mind,” with their swelling strings and lush backing vocals. Rimes even nods to her own distant past by including a version of Marty Robbins’ ”Don’t Worry” — the song that won her Star Search fame as an 8-year-old.

For all the well-chosen tried-and-true country weepers here, and for all the catches in the throat that Rimes so skillfully executes, LeAnn Rimes rarely elicits a catch in the listener’s throat. And on the album’s biggest misstep, Kris Kristofferson’s ”Me and Bobby McGee” (the only No. 1 hit for Janis Joplin, who was all bluesy grit and poignancy on her signature version), Rimes sounds about as ”busted flat” as if she were having gold-card problems at the Plaza Hotel. In her attempt to mimic the mighty Joplin, she sounds, by song’s end, like she’s breathlessly racing to keep up with the band.

Although Rimes’ wondrous voice keeps getting better, she’s begging comparisons by so diligently covering songs that have already been done to perfection. LeAnn Rimes dares listeners to take note of what is missing in her interpretations — the gutsiness and gut-wrenching urgency of performers who felt what they sang.

When Rimes does cut loose on the honky-tonkin’ yodel-fest ”Lovesick Blues,” the Hank Williams two-stepper ”Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and especially on her current sassy hit, ”Big Deal,” the fun is contagiously youthful.

So why is Rimes always in such a hellfire hurry to show she’s all grown up? Is it impossible to find songs that both show off her dazzling technique and match her life experience? Only time will tell. This is an album that she should have waited a few years, and a few heartbreaks, to make. B-