October 16, 2008
Lee Ann Womack's 2005 disc, "There's More Where That Came From," was arguably the best album of her career. It won her three Country Music Association awards, including album and single of the year, and was praised by critics for its deft take on classic country.
But when Womack began recording the follow-up in 2006, something didn't feel right.
"I wasn't sure if my heart and my mind and everything were all in the right place. I changed my mind a lot and was overthinking things. We put a single out and it wasn't performing that well, and I was frustrated and tired."
She wound up scrapping the project last year and taking time off to regroup.
Now, the 42-year-old singer is releasing the album she says she wanted to make all along, "Call Me Crazy."
"The time I spent writing, looking for songs and meeting with Tony (producer Tony Brown) felt so effortless and natural," said Womack, who arrived for a recent interview in a black Mercedes and cradling two Yorkshire terriers.
This isn't the first time she's taken a break between records. There was also a three-year gap between her 2002 release, "Something Worth Leaving Behind," and "There's More Where That Came From."
She said she needs the time at home with her daughters, aged 17 and 9, and her husband, producer Frank Liddell, to recharge.
During her hiatus, she learned some Spanish - "poquito" she says holding her thumb and index finger a smidgen apart - worked on her guitar playing ("I get jealous sometimes when I see someone like Vince (Gill) play really well") and spent a lot of time writing songs.
"I had a sense that the work she did last year was not particularly inspired," said Luke Lewis, chairman of Universal Music Group Nashville, which includes Womack's MCA label. "She sat back and waited and did it again. I've got so much trust in her and her instincts. She knows when she's ready and when she's not."
Musically, Womack mixes traditional and pop styles on her records. But her last album, "There's More Where That Came From," was a nostalgic nod to '60s and '70s country, down to the retro cover art and the vinyl pressing.
While critics loved it, radio was lukewarm. Only one single, "I May Hate Myself in the Morning," made the top 10.
That's a switch from the late '90s when she regularly cracked the top 5 with hits such as "The Fool" and "A Little Past Little Rock," and a far cry from 2000 when her crossover smash "I Hope You Dance" propelled her to multiplatinum stardom.
Lewis said more hits would have been welcome, but the album still went gold and won industry honors.
"We can make money off selling half a million records. There's not that many people doing it," he said. "Let it have accolades and sell 500,000 and be recognized as a great and enduring album and I'm a very happy guy."
Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon Jennings and an outspoken country rocker who's toured and recorded with Womack, said the thing that sets her apart from her contemporaries in mainstream country is the integrity to buck commercial trends.
"There's a certain responsibility that she feels for country music, and that's why she will get so mad at something that's false," Jennings said.
With the new disc, Womack strikes more of a balance than on her last one. While some songs conjure smoky saloons with George Jones on the jukebox, others like "New Again" and "I Found It In You" have a bright, radio-ready sound.
She co-wrote four of the 12 tracks and called in pals George Strait and Keith Urban to sing with her. The first single, "Last Call," is a melancholy tune about a woman who doesn't answer the phone call she knows is coming, yet again, from a bar at closing time.
Womack said she sings what seems natural to her, and more often than not, it's sad country songs.