On paper, East Texas native Lee Ann Womack enjoyed a good run working within Nashville’s major-label system: She won a Grammy, six Country Music Association awards, five Academy of Country Music awards, and sold more than six million records. And her megahit, 2000’s “I Hope You Dance,” can still be heard on the radio and at weddings. Lots of weddings. Yet Womack says on the latest episode of the National Podcast of Texas that she only really came into her own after leaving Music Row’s hit-making machinery behind to make 2014’s The Way I’m Livin’ –a collection of sad songs focused on dark, complicated characters. Its follow-up, 2017’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone earned two Grammy nominations, for Best Americana Album and Best Americana Roots Song for lead single “All the Trouble.” The critically-acclaimed album—which in April spawned a new single, “Hollywood”—represents a homecoming, in that she recorded it in Houston with her husband Frank Liddell (the 2017 ACM Album of the Year winning producer for Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings).
Three takeaways from her appearance on the National Podcast of Texas:
1. Recording The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone at Houston’s legendary SugarHill Recording Studios was part of an intentional effort to rethink her creative process.
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“I had always heard about SugarHill and knew that George Jones cut all his first stuff there. I just thought it’d be fun to get out of Nashville. When you’re making a record in a Nashville studio, you walk into the lounge, and you’re running into other artists and other label people, and they’re all talking about chart numbers. But you go down to a place like SugarHill, or a studio in Austin, and people are just talking about music. It’s just a much different vibe.”
2. For Womack, the lines between traditional country music, soul, and blues have always seemed blurry.
“I love traditional country music, but to me, George Jones is a soul singer. I think that’s what I tapped into as a kid. I didn’t understand what those lyrics were, but got a feeling from his voice. Same with Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe. To me those old country records were very soulful and a form of the blues. And when I hear Townes Van Zandt sing, I feel the same thing I do when I hear Lightnin’ Hopkins or Junior Kimbrough. There’s something deep way down in there, in the gut. And I feel the same way when I hear Jones sing.”
3. While “I Hope You Dance” is not the kind of song she’s typically drawn to or ultimately hopes to be defined by, she doesn’t regret its success.
“I don’t want to come off as bitter. It’s not that at all. I’m very grateful to have that song because I get to be a part of people’s lives and their life-changing moments. They associate that song with births of children or even deaths where it comforted them. And weddings . . . big momentous occasions in people’s lives. Who gets to have a record like that?”