Lee Ann Womack Shares The Way I’m Livin’

Lee Ann Womack Shares The Way I’m Livin’

By Bob Doerschuk

© 2014 CMA Close Up®
News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Released Sept. 23 by Sugar Hill Records, Lee Ann Womack’s
The Way I’m LIvin’ begins with a wounded whisper, followed by a gospel
rouser that somehow begs for mercy while asserting the fervor of devotion, a heartbreaking
account of one more night in a forsaken saloon, an exhilarating, string-soared
plea for some way to reconcile these extremes … and so on through 13 songs that
unfold like chapters in recounting a life nearly lost to turbulence and trouble.

Perhaps the most surprising
thing about this celebration of narrative writing and nuanced vocal interpretation
is that it all came together without much design. In fact, there was only one
light guiding Womack and her producer/ husband Frank Liddell as they took their
first steps in preproduction.

“The only agenda I had was to not think about anything except:
Is this a great song or not? Is this a song that moves me or not? So when we were
done, these are the songs we ended up with,” Womack explained.

 “Over the years, Lee Ann
and I would set aside songs that we like,” said Liddell. “I’ve always brought
her songs. In fact, I’ve pitched some of her bigger hits to her. We always had
that connection. I always thought she was a really good song listener. She has
always listened and said, ‘I really like that’ as opposed to ‘What will
this do for me?’ There’s not a lot of marketing thought behind it. She either
likes it or she doesn’t.”

Womack’s respect and empathy for the marriage of strong melody
and eloquent lyrics elevates her performance, suggests which words she will push
slightly, the twists on the tune and other subtleties that mark her reach for
each song’s essence, even its reason for existence.

Take the opening track, “Fly.” Written by Brent
Cobb and Reed Foehl, it’s given a hushed, almost reverent treatment — unusual
and even risky for kicking off any album. But in the context of The Way I’m
, the selection and placement are perfect.

“It didn’t take long before I said, ‘Let’s
just cut this one with acoustic guitar,’” Womack said. “That’s not really
done at all anymore. But I just felt like stripping everything away to just a
little bit of accompaniment to let this melody and lyric carry it.”

For both Womack and Liddell,
“Chances Are” (Hayes Carll), the third track, is a diamond among the album’s
varied gems. “The melody is unbelievable,” she noted. “It’s the kind of
melody I can really get around. It’s Country but it has bluesy/jazzy influences
to it. It’s got big, open spaces. The lyric is so vulnerable, but the character
in the song lets me access not only my technique but also my soul.”

That character is a woman
who has lived too long paled by neon lights and too often adrift after last call.
“Oh, I’ve been there,” Womack admitted, with a laugh. “I know what the
guitar sounds like coming out of a jukebox with the natural reverb of a room in
a honky-tonk, with the neon glowing. That’s very familiar to me. I’m not one
of those artists that act like everything is pretty and shiny all the time. That’s not what I do.”

Ultimately, The Way
I’m Livin’
is a statement of faith — faith that the power and pain
and reality in the heart of Country Music will always be kept alive, whether by
Brandy Clark, Allison Moorer, Kacey Musgraves and other young innovators or by
those who have long been rooted in tradition while reaching toward new generations.

“It’s always important
to go back to the source, no matter if you’re writing a research paper or you’re
a guitar player,” Womack insisted. “But the real, true artists don’t need
me to tell them that. They’re going to seek that out because they’re going
to feel it and know it in their heart. They’ll know it when they find the real deal.”

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