Lee Ann Womack and Diamond Rio both scored crossover hits with the title tracks from their previous albums. Now they’re back with new projects, which still occasionally dabble in other musical styles. Meanwhile, Kelly Willis offers a peaceful Easy feeling, songwriter Anthony Smith makes a run to launch his own recording career and the Clark Family Experience finally release their debut album.
Fresh from the success of “I Hope You Dance,” Womack squeezes as much musical variety as possible into Something Worth Leaving Behind (MCA Nashville). Despite stabs at modern rock, Top 40 whisperings and groovy ‘70s vibes, the reigning CMA female vocalist ultimately sounds most comfortable here with contemporary country. Accomplished songwriters Matraca Berg , John Bettis, Hank Cochran , Dave Loggins, Gretchen Peters and Bruce Robison are all represented. Robison also contributes a charming harmony on “Blame It on Me.”
The album closes with an alternate version of “Something Worth Leaving Behind” produced by Matt Serletic (Matchbox Twenty). No other music from their sessions together made the cut, although Womack has said that Serletic once made her sing one specific song for eight hours to get it right. A third version of “Something Worth Leaving Behind,” produced by Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin), will appear in a gift book inspired by the song.
The tear-jerking ballad “One More Day” brought crossover success to Diamond Rio in 2001, a full decade into their career. They return with Completely (Arista Nashville), which features “Beautiful Mess,” now at No. 11 on the Billboard country singles chart. Other highlights include a wink toward aging (“Wrinkles”), a slinky jazz moment (“Something Cool”) and a clever instrumental from guitarist Jimmy Olander (“Rural Philharmonic”).
The six-man band also showcases a variety of material, from David Ball (“If You’d Like Some Lovin’”) to Diane Warren (“Completely,” which Michael Bolton has also recorded). “Make Sure You’ve Got it All,” a true country tune from fellow Opry members Steve Wariner and Bill Anderson , closes the set. Collin Raye recorded it on his 1998 album The Walls Came Down.
One of the most charming singers in Austin, Willis makes country music seem effortless. Her latest album, Easy (Rykodisc), balances her tender, fragile voice with a batch of simple, soothing songs. It’s not as bold as her 1999 comeback What I Deserve, but Easy sets a lovely mood. Guests include Vince Gill , Alison Krauss , Chris Thile and Dan Tyminski. Though she had a hand in writing six of the 10 songs here, Willis also pulls from the catalog of husband Robison, Paul Kelly, Kirsty MacColl and Marcia Ball. Album photos were shot on location at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin.
Smith co-wrote the George Strait hit, “Run,” although his own singing style leans toward Montgomery Gentry rumblings. In fact, Smith co-write their hit, “Didn’t I.” The title track from Smith’s first album, If That Ain’t Country (Mercury Nashville), may be the first country hit to name-drop the Dixie Chicks . Confederate Railroad fans will recognize “What Brothers Do.” Another original, “John J. Blanchard,” also appears on Tommy Shane Steiner’s album Then Came the Night. Smith debuts on the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday (Aug. 24).
The six brothers known as The Clark Family Experience finally see their self-titled debut album in stores. Curb Records signed the band, with Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore producing. A single from 2000, “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch,” dented the charts, but nevertheless, the family act filed for bankruptcy in May. Their most recent single, “Going Away,” gets the album going.