Wo­mack’s coun­try gets ‘Gone’ Lee Ann Wo­mack

Singer’s lat­est lays bare the grief of love’s in­evitable flight

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - SPOTLIGHT - By Ja­nine Schaults

“In some ways, every heartache is like an old Hank Wil­liams song,” Lee Ann Wo­mack sings on the ti­tle track of “The Lonely, the Lone­some & the Gone,” her lat­est al­bum, bone-chill­ing in its abil­ity to tap straight into the grief and long­ing that ac­com­pany some­one’s world falling apart with a ges­ture as mun­dane as a “Camry pulling out of a crowded apart­ment park­ing lot.”

Re­leased in Oc­to­ber, the al­bum’s mix of 14 mourn­ful and feisty orig­i­nals and cover songs doesn’t try to ro­man­ti­cize love or its in­evitable flee­ing the way coun­try leg­ends such as the “Hill­billy Shake­speare” did. This is mu­sic that mim­ics the way ly­ing on the kitchen floor with your cheek pressed up against the cold linoleum in a pud­dle of tears feels.

“My mu­sic, it’s not a hope­ful type of mu­sic,” Wo­mack said in a phone in­ter­view ear­lier this year from her home base in Nashville. “It’s coun­try mu­sic. It’s Deep South-kind of soul mu­sic for the work­ing man.”

Fair-weather fans who re­main fa­mil­iar with Wo­mack through her early aughts cross­over hit “I Hope You Dance” may be sur­prised to find them­selves cry­ing into their Caber­net when she per­forms Satur­day at Coral Sky Am­phithe­atre, but Wo­mack says even that joy­ful Grammy win­ner con­tained the blue­print of this stir­ring ma­te­rial.

“When I think of ‘I Hope You Dance,’ I don’t think about all the suc­cess and all the things that came along with it. I think about the lyric and how real that lyric was,” she says. “I would say there’s a lot on this record that’s like that.”

Twenty years, nine stu­dio al­bums in and heaps of CMA, ACM and Grammy wins and nom­i­na­tions to her name, Wo­mack, 51, is mak­ing the most vis­ceral mu­sic of her ca­reer. She cred­its Texas with be­ing her se­cret weapon for res­ur­rect­ing the youth­ful hunger that drives artists just start­ing out. That’s why she de­cided to take a break from the “fac­tory” she says Nashville has be­come for Hous­ton, three hours from her birth­place in Jack­sonville, Texas, to hunker down in Su­garHill Stu­dios.

“Every time I go back to Texas, I am re­minded of why I got in the busi­ness in the first place,” she ad­mits. “[I] was full of hopes and dreams and had ev­ery­thing ahead of me, and every time I go back there I feel like that again. I wanted to feel like that while I was mak­ing this record.”

With her “lit­tle clique” of hus­band and pro­ducer Frank Lid­dell, co-writ­ers and mu­si­cians Way­lon Payne and Adam Wright, even daugh­ter An­nalise Lid­dell on gui­tar in tow, Wo­mack eas­ily re­claimed that child­like won­der. “It hap­pens au­to­mat­i­cally,” she says of set­ting foot in Texas. “Like it’s just sort of a Pavlo­vian re­sponse.”

Wo­mack co-wrote more songs on “The Lonely, the Lone­some & the Gone” than any of her other al­bums. With­out a record la­bel push­ing dead­lines (the al­bum even­tu­ally found a home on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records), she cred­its the surge in cre­ativ­ity to the one thing there’s never enough of. “I had the lux­ury of hav­ing the time to take my time,” she says.

Wo­mack also found the lack of ex­ec­u­tives con­cerned about the bot­tom line, bud­getary con­straints and the almighty ra­dio sin­gle free­ing. “There were all kinds of things that I didn’t have to think about,” she says. “That’s the way mu­sic should be made. That’s the way art should be made. Real mu­sic is not a prod­uct.”

The re­sults are a master class in fu­ri­ous hell­fire (“All the Trou­ble,” in which she trans­forms the word “find” into five syl­la­bles of de­fi­ance), gauzy res­ig­na­tion (“Hol­ly­wood”) and sub­terfuge (“Talking Be­hind Your Back”).

In­flu­enced by flip­ping through Where: When: 7:30 p.m. Satur­day. Alan Jack­son is the head­liner. Cost: $20-$88.75. Con­tact: 800-745-3000, Live­Na­tion.com. old fam­ily pho­tos, “Mama Lost Her Smile” drips with mys­tery while also pro­vid­ing com­men­tary on the no­tion that all pic­tures are a lie. “You don’t take pic­tures of the bad times. No one whips out their cam­era when some­body’s bawl­ing,” Wo­mack ex­plains.

The rea­son for the ma­tri­arch’s miss­ing grin is never re­solved.

“I think it’s much bet­ter to leave it open,” Wo­mack says be­fore laugh­ing. “’ Cause ev­ery­body’s smile might just have a dif­fer­ent story. It’s not re­ally about why she quit smil­ing. It’s just that she did.”

A gifted in­ter­preter, Wo­mack’s vo­cals veer from pris­tine to gritty with­out los­ing the ache ab­sent from what passes as coun­try mu­sic cur­rently on ra­dio sta­tions de­voted to the genre. Find­ing songs to lend her voice to is al­most an art it­self. “You prob­a­bly heard a song be­fore and thought, ‘ Gosh, did they write that about me?’ I love dis­cov­ery as well as writ­ing my­self,” she says, but claims she doesn’t have a pref­er­ence. “I lean more to­ward Wil­lie Nel­son in that I write some of the things I do and some I don’t.”

Choos­ing the right songs to cover comes down to a “gut thing,” she says. “I ei­ther feel it or I don’t.”

The bounc­ing clos­ing track, “Take the Devil Out of Me” stemmed from just “fool­ing around” in the stu­dio, the same room where Ge­orge Jones recorded the orig­i­nal ver­sion 60 years ago.

“I wouldn’t say I felt his pres­ence,” Wo­mack dead­pans when asked if Jones’ ghost paid her band a visit while putting his im­mor­tal words to tape. “I mean, I feel his pres­ence all the time, be­cause I’m ob­sessed with his singing, but it wasn’t any­thing oth­er­worldly.”

He’s surely smil­ing from the great beyond.

RI­CARDO DEARATANHA/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

“My mu­sic, it’s not a hope­ful type of mu­sic,” Lee Ann Wo­mack says. “It’s coun­try mu­sic.”

Coral Sky Am­phithe­atre, 601-7 Sans­burys Way, West Palm Beach.

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