review: Marla Cantrell
It’s been seven long years since Lee Ann Womack released an album. In a recent article, the reporter said it felt as if Womack was making up for lost time. Whatever she was doing, it certainly worked. The Way I’m Livin’ is traditional, hard knocks country that makes you nostalgic for the time when you could scoot behind the steering wheel, turn on just about any radio station, and hear the kind of songs that Tammy Wynette sang, that George Jones sang. If that’s what you’re looking for, Womack surely delivers.
When she talks about this album, recorded mostly live, she says she didn’t factor in its potential commercial success. Instead, she found songs she wanted to record, and she took them as far as she could. It helped that she had some of the best musicians in the business (acoustic guitar player Mac McAnally, drummer Matt Chamberlin, bass player Glenn Whorf, guitarist Duke Levine) playing with her, and they are as close to perfect as is humanly possible.
There are thirteen tracks on this album. “Don’t Listen to the Wind,” is a moody song, the spaces between Womack’s voice filled with the steel guitar, the fiddle, the tambourine. A heartbroken woman fresh off the heels of a breakup with a cheating man, misses her chance at true love because she can’t move on. In the title song, “The Way I’m Livin’,” Womack chronicles her run-in with the devil who introduces her to hard drink and makes her doubt where she’ll spend eternity.
Where Womack shines the brightest is on “Send it on Down,” and “Out on the Weekend,” a Neil Young cover song from 1972. “Send it on Down” continues the theme of sin and redemption, and she asks over and over, “Jesus, can you save me from going crazy? I need some help getting out of this town.” You can feel the ache in Womack’s voice, in the wrong choices, and the wrong friends, and the wrong way life twists itself into something you in no way intended.
“Out on the Weekend” was a brave choice for Womack. Who takes on a Neil Young song? But it was a good choice for her. The folk hit that became an anthem in the seventies, turns into something absolutely different and wonderful when Womack puts her mark on it. There is so much loneliness and longing and regret. It’s one of the things Womack says she loves about singing, seeing how songs and emotion work together.
The Texas native is immensely pleased with this album. It seems to hit you directly in the heart, making you remember the loves you lost, the hard times you made it through, the way life can be filled with rough places, but with glory too.
Already, this album is creating a lot of buzz. It seems there’s a monumental audience looking for traditional country, sung without a room full of instruments, by an artist whose voice strikes the perfect chord in every song.