Womack ditches pop, returns to country roots
By Chrissie Dickinson
Special to the Tribune
Published February 9, 2005
Lee Ann Womack looked to country music's past to find her future on her new
release, "There's More Where That Came From."
"It's about real-life situations," the country singer says in a phone
interview, discussing her new CD. "Like a lot of artists I listened to --
Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Dolly Parton -- like their music, these songs
are really emotionally raw and kind of naked. It touches on some subjects
that maybe we haven't heard so much recently on country radio."
"There's More Where That Came From" (MCA Nashville) puts Womack -- who made
her major label debut in 1997 -- firmly back on the charts as one of
contemporary country's most effecting singers. It's also a collection that
highlights her sure instincts when it comes to choosing material.
"She's great at picking songs," says Michael McCall, a veteran country
music journalist and staff writer at the Nashville-based publication
Country Weekly. "Every one of her albums has had some of the best songs of
Riding high at No. 14
The new album's leadoff single, "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," is at
No. 14 on Billboard's country singles chart. The song is a tale of two
former lovers who -- against their better judgment -- keep falling back
into each other's arms: "Ain't it just like one of us / to pick up the
phone and call after a couple drinks." Gently kicking off with fiddle and
acoustic guitar, the song soars into a strings-and-steel countrypolitan
Womack's aching soprano harks back to the same combination of sadness and
steel found in Parton's vocals. There's also an aesthetic nod to the late
Wynette, whose vocals also evoked tragedy and triumph in equal measure.
The new album frequently features classic country themes of infidelity and
heartbreak. A majority of the songs are couched in traditional country
arrangements, while several are wrought in tasteful pop productions.
Womack, 38, chronicles a wide spectrum of the female romantic experience,
from the emotionally torn story of a woman who cheats ("There's More Where
That Came From") to women who are left behind ("One's a Couple,"
"I've never really minded being the victim or the strong person [in song],
because I think most women, if they're honest about who they are, they have
a little bit of all of that in 'em," Womack says. "All the women that I
know do. I think it's very representative of the normal, everyday woman, to
have a lot of these kinds of feelings going through her heart and mind at
the same time."
Womack co-wrote "Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago" with songwriters Dean
Dillon and Dale Dodson. Although the lyrics teem with the heartaches of
years gone by, the song was born of a personal observation. The singer was
in her office one day when an assistant spotted an older photograph of
"My assistant was laughing and asked, `Oh, where was this taken?'" Womack
says. "I looked at the photo and I said, `Oh, lord, honey, I don't
remember. That was 20 years and two husbands ago.' And I thought, Oh, my
lord, my life is such a country song."
Womack laughs. "When you don't have to make it up, you might as well go
ahead and draw from the well."
The mother of two daughters, Womack is married to Frank Liddell, a
Nashville-based producer and song publisher.
Advice and encouragement
Although Womack has charted a number of glistening singles in the past,
none was bigger than the title track of her 2000 CD "I Hope You Dance."
It was a song filled with both hard-won advice ("Don't let some hell-bent
heart leave you bitter/When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider") and
insightful encouragement ("I hope you still feel small when you stand
beside the ocean/Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens").
Such was the enormous impact of "I Hope You Dance" that it made the final
cut in the book "Heartaches by the Number: Country Music's 500 Greatest
Singles" by David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren.
"We chose `I Hope You Dance' to end our book because it seemed to us,
thematically, to be a kind of `Keep on the Sunny Side' for the 21st
Century," Cantwell says. "There are sunny skies and stormy ones all around
-- and that's a traditionally country world view if ever there was one.
"`I Hope You Dance' encourages us to face that glass half full/glass half
empty duality of our condition with humility and gratitude, with daring and
love," Cantwell continues. "And that message struck such a chord with
people, I think, because we know that there'll be plenty of times when we
won't be humble and we will feel bitter. We're human. We'll hurt and make
mistakes. We'll need encouragement, and we'll need second chances."
Although the massively successful single resonated deeply with fans, it
also proved a mixed blessing for the singer.
"I didn't realize it until I was in the middle of it," Womack says. "`I
Hope You Dance' wasn't just a big hit. It spoke to people emotionally, and
even almost on a spiritual level. So, therefore, they would come to my
shows, and come into meet-and-greets, and write to the fan club, with
requests for things. It was almost like they were expecting some words of
wisdom, words of comfort, or some kind of spiritual guidance that I just
wasn't prepared to give. I mean, I'm a country singer."
Fame, then the fallout
The album "I Hope You Dance" sold 2.6 million copies, according to Nielsen
SoundScan. Then the fallout came. Womack's follow-up, 2002's "Something
Worth Leaving Behind," pulled further away from her traditionalist roots
and went in a pop-leaning direction. The CD sold a disappointing 289,000
For her new studio release, Womack and producer Byron Gallimore decided to
largely forgo a pop-crossover sound and return to her classic country
roots. She concedes it took her a while to find her way back to that path.
"Ultimately, it was a conscious decision," she says about the new album's
classic production choices. "But it took me a while to come back around to
that. I was off the road for a couple years, and didn't really know what I
wanted to do. I had been kind of floundering around, because my last record
wasn't as successful commercially as the one before that. So I was kind of
searching for what I needed to do. So I found `I May Hate Myself in the
Morning,' and that sort of became my direction, and I sort of made the
whole record around that song."