Sunday, 26 July, 2009 10:59 AM
Lee Ann Womack Closed the Circle
with 'Call Me Crazy' (CMA)
by Danny Clinch
Nashville recording artist Lee Ann Womack
2009 CMA Close Up News Service
For much of the music
world, Call Me Crazy is a welcome reunion with the voice
and interpretive gifts of Lee Ann Womack after her three-year hiatus
But for Tony Brown, this
album represents fulfillment of a dream that dates back to a fateful
day in his office at MCA Nashville, when an intern unexpectedly
caught his ear.
"The tape copy room
was across the hall from my office," recalled Brown, who was
at the time a staff producer and A&R executive with the record
label. "Usually interns got the job of making compilations
of songs when an artist is about to cut, so one day I heard one
of them singing in there; when the music stopped, she'd keep singing
by herself. And I was thinking, 'Man, she's got a killer voice!'"
She still does, but in
those days Womack was an undergraduate at what was then Belmont
College, a young Texas transplant in the early stages of her push
toward success in Country Music. She was also, by her own admission,
not exactly an ideal student.
"I didn't pay as
much attention as I should have. That was my own fault. I don't
want to say I didn't learn anything at Belmont, but I learned a
whole lot more - and I hate to say it - sitting on the barstool,
getting married a couple of times, having kids and living life.
Basically, I wouldn't want somebody with my educational background
to take care of my money," she said, laughing.
Luckily, Womack could
compensate for any academic laxities with tons of talent and a bit
of luck. Being in the midst of work with Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett
and other artists, Brown admitted to not moving quickly enough in
connecting with her. That became clear to him when producer Mark
Wright dropped by with Womack to announce that they were about to
start work together on her self-titled debut album.
summed up, "I said to myself, 'How stupid of me to not have
followed up on this!'"
Sometimes time can help
correct mistakes of the past. Over the next decade, Womack's star
rose high into the Country Music firmament. She sold more than 6
million albums, won two Grammy Awards and six CMA Awards: Single
for "I Hope You Dance" in 2000, Female Vocalist in 2001,
Vocal Event for "Mendocino County Line" with Willie Nelson
in 2002 and a trifecta in 2005 as she was honored with Musical Event
for "Good News, Bad News" with George Strait, Single for
"I May Hate Myself in the Morning" and Album for There's
More Where That Came From.
She also worked with
two of the best producers in and beyond Music City, Wright and Byron
Gallimore. But with Call Me Crazy an important circle was
closed as she recorded her first album with Brown at the helm.
"Tony was really
good for me because he's worked with so many kinds of artists and
personalities and also because he ran a lot of record labels and
played on the road," Womack said. "He brings a lot of
things to the table, so when he makes a record, he thinks about
all the aspects of it. He converses with the players as you're listening
down to a demo or me playing on guitar, and the ideas start flowing.
Tony is real good about letting everybody speak up and say, 'What
about this? Let's try this.' That's why the vibe of Call Me
Crazy is different from what I've done in the past."
To understand that feeling,
Brown advised, start with Womack's qualities as a singer. "When
you're cutting Keith Urban or Rascal Flatts, it's about the voice
but the track is what really drives the song," he explained.
"With the way Lee Ann sings, the vocal drives the song, so
the musicians have to play with her as opposed to her singing with
them. Her voice isn't loud but it's really full and rich. Her pronunciation
is so good. It's a pure voice, like Alison Krauss has. So I really
wanted to complement her as if she was singing with no band around
Brown also made sure
that Womack didn't do more than a couple of takes on each tune.
"He was real adamant about that," she said. "When
you sing something five or six times, it's not going to be as fresh.
That was part of the reason why this album seems maybe a little
Writing and finding the
right material made this easier. Most of the album reflects a preference
that distinguishes much of her catalog, for songs that tell stories,
often brushed with sadness or pain. "It's not that she's depressed,
but sad songs make her happy: The more misery, the better,"
said Dale Dodson, who wrote four tracks with Womack on Call
Me Crazy: "If These Walls Could Talk," "Everything
But Quits" and "Have You Seen That Girl" (both with
Dean Dillon as a third co-writer) and "New Again" (with
Casey Beathard). "It's that old Tammy Wynette kind of thing:
'We've got a big house and big cars. We live in Brentwood. And we're
"When you sit down
with Dale, he'll come right out and say, 'We need some more color
in here. We've got to paint this picture,'" Womack said. "That's
important, whether you're writing a short story or a song. When
I'm reading something, I'm much more likely to get into it if I
can see the picture in my head. If I'm listening to music, I want
to be taken somewhere on a journey. If I'm singing or making a record
for somebody, I want to take them with me."
Dodson, who met Womack
in 1995 when she joined him on the writing staff at Sony Tree Publishing,
draws from his experience of writing with her on songs that include
"The Man That Made My Mama Cry" and "Twenty Years
and Two Husbands Ago" to observe that her co-writes usually
begin with an idea from her for a fragment of a lyric or a title.
Focusing on "If These Walls Could Talk," he remembered
when she played him two initial verses as a starting point for their
collaboration. From there, he came up with the chorus and introduced
the poignant image, in the last verse, of a child praying bedside
in a troubled home. Dodson also suggested a key change but couldn't
find a convincing place or means to add it.
That problem was solved
in the studio by Brown. Humming the zigzag line that lifts the tune
through a modulation after an instrumental break, Dodson marveled,
"It sounds so natural. When they called me over to hear the
track, I just looked at Lee Ann and she pointed at him. That's just
one reason why Tony, to me, is the best producer in this town since
Sweetened by two all-star
duets , with George Strait on the beautifully old-school "Everything
But Quits" and Keith Urban on the more experimental "The
Bees," and nourished from the classic well of saloon songs
with its first two singles, "Last Call" and "Solitary
Thinkin', "Call Me Crazy lifted Womack back into the spotlight
following its October 2008 release on MCA Nashville. The months
that followed included a Grammy nomination for Best Female Country
Performance, concert bookings that stretch through the summer and
TV appearances that included "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,"
on which her 17-year-old daughter Aubrie provided backup guitar
and harmony with her band.
One thing remains constant
as long as Womack continues to write, record and perform. "I've
changed a lot over the past 10 years," she mused. "I can
look back at my records and see that growth, but my love of real
Country Music is always the foundation. Whether it be Appalachian,
bluegrassy, rootsy stuff or straight-ahead Texas shuffles, I love
that kind of music. And all of my albums have dealt with real-life
things. That's certainly not going to change either."
Neither is Brown's respect
for his onetime intern. "I must say, I hustled Lee Ann to do
this record," he admits. "And I was so nervous; I felt
like it was my first record with George Strait. But now, when somebody
says, 'Play me something you're really proud of,' I always play
them this album. And I'm just glad she's back."
On the Web: www.leeannwomack.com;
cover photo by Danny Clinch
Ann Womack's new album, Call Me Crazy
is Detroit's exclusive media outlet for this syndicated weekly column!