Lee Ann Womack had a long and successful mainstream country music career but a couple of years back she began releasing rootsier music that aligned itself more with what we loosely term Americana. She has been outspoken against the pop orientated sound coming out of Nashville right now, which immediately attracted me to her. Having never listened to her music before I came into this album with fresh ears and was instantly impressed. The Lonely, The Lonesome & the Gone is outstanding with quality songs and vocal performances throughout.
The soulful ‘All The Trouble’ is exactly the kind of song I want to hear right now. Mature. Mournful. Magnificent. There’s something reassuringly defiant about the vocals and the simple lyrics. I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever going to need. I just don’t want no more. It’s a straightforward, simple refrain but one most can sympathise with.
The title track has a reference to Hank Williams (like the one we heard on the Sunny Sweeney’s album I reviewed earlier this year) and some nice steel guitar behind it. This is a song for introverts, runaways and dreamers. She laments the loss of this kind of real life music on the radio. I don’t know why no one sings/about drowning in pitchers and half-priced wings/and trying to wish back everything they’ve lost. She might not find herself on the charts anymore but such a well crafted, elegant song never goes out of style.
He Called Me Baby, is an old country song, recorded by both Patsy Cline and Candi Staton. Those two artists give you a clear indication of the sweet spot between country and soul that this album aims for (and hits). Songs like Hollywood, Sunday and Brent Cobb’s Shine on a Rainy Day are perfect examples of this merging of two styles.
End of the End of the World is great, with some real twang and steel to the sound. I would say this is one of my favourites on the album, although I feel a little bad since it is one of the few not written by Womack herself. She has admitted to being self critical of her own writing skills in the past but this album has her involved in the songwriting more than ever before. This album shows she also has the talent to pick great songs too. Bottom of the Barrel, another one written by lovely Brent Cobb, is modern but classic country inspired, reminding me of some songs by Ashley Monroe (you feel Ashley is probably a Womack fan, considering how similar their singing styles are).
Mama Lost Her Smile starts a little schmaltzy and 90s for me, but it keeps the sound authentically Americana, eventually evolving into something quite moving. This is real life, she sings on this song and you believe it. Unlike say the atrocious Shania Twain record, this is an album by a 50 year old woman that is aimed at people her own age and anyone else who wants to listen to someone who’s lived and understands life. We’re all a little faded and worn, she sings totally unafraid to be herself. Her talent stands alone, no tricks or autotune needed.
There’s a slight shift in tone at this point of the album with Wicked being a heavier, blusier number. Then the haunting Long Black Veil continues the descent into darkness. This is an old Lefty Frizzell song about a murder and mourning, covered in the past by people as diverse as Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and Nick Cave. The vocal performance on this simple folk style song is evocative and chilling.
Take the Devil Out of Me acknowledges her own sins and darkness, praying to be set free. It’s a fun little number to finish with, a gospel inspired honky tonk hymn. The cover of this album suggested it was going to be dark and heavy but the energy and honesty of Womack’s voice brings nothing but light to the listener.
The picture of her smoking cover could be seen to be controversial but I don’t think she’s trying to look ‘cool’ or glamourous or whatever. For me this image sums up the point of the album. She’s been there, she’s learned about life the hard way and knows you sometimes need something to get you through – music, alcohol, smoking, love, whatever – damn what anyone else thinks. That’s the kind of album and artist I can get behind.