NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 4)

Lee Ann Womack's Back, So Are Willie and Worley; Grammys Are Strong

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

• Lee Ann Womack, after a bit of a career detour, appears to be storming back with what is beginning to sound to me like a career-defining album. I’ve run the needle through There’s More Where That Came From (MCA has pressed a vinyl LP as well as a CD) only a few times but what I’m hearing is extremely impressive. The CD releases Feb. 8 and I suspect this will return Womack to the forefront of country artists. Few can match the warm sincerity of her singing, and it’s for good reason that she can be favorably compared to Dolly Parton. The current single “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” is torchy enough, but check out the earthy title song, which is even stronger. This is pure country music delivered straight from the home office.

• Willie Nelson, whose whole life and career has been a series of fascinating detours to points unknown, is back with another detour (a good one) in his new CD It Will Always Be. The songs refer back to the Willie Nelson of the era of his great concept albums Shotgun Willie, Phases and Stages and the ultimate country concept album, Red Headed Stranger. Just listen to especially the title song and “Love’s the One and Only Thing.” Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams make memorable appearances, and Toby Keith adds some grit to a re-make of “Midnight Rider.”

• Darryl Worley, who was unfairly painted by many in the media as strictly a reactionary, hawkish Toby Keith wannabe after his song “Have You Forgotten,” has recorded a very substantial new self-titled CD revealing considerable musical growth from someone who is obviously not a one-note artist. The album’s packed with solid songs of modern-day reality. For one, Worley’s co-written “Wake Up, America” is a plaintive appeal about drug addiction in the sort of neighborhood he grew up in. A personal note: Not too long ago, I was in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight to Nashville, and there were a number of uniformed soldiers waiting for the flight. Worley was on that same flight, and when he came into the waiting area, he went around and visited with each of the soldiers, one by one, and sat and talked with them. It was obvious they were impressed and moved by his words and actions. He didn’t have to do that. But he did.

• As a Grammy voter, the Grammys continue to both please and amaze and sometimes puzzle me. The nominations this year — over a thousand! — are an amazing mix of predictable choices and seemingly off the wall picks. The Grammy voters, as I’m sure you know, are professionals in all walks of the music industry, worldwide, and tend to vote along purely musical lines. This is not a popularity contest, in general. But a majority of the voters are outside the Nashville chapter of NARAS, and sometimes their country votes may be skewed.

My random observations: Loretta Lynn deserves each and every one of her five nominations. I’m thrilled to see Ronnie Milsap back on track again — for a pop nomination this time. Steve Earle gets a deserved rock nomination. Great to see both Gretchen Wilson and Los Lonely Boys in the new artist category. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are remembered. Willie’s Carter Family tribute with “You Are My Flower” is especially memorable. Buddy Miller gets a nod for his great new gospel album Universal United House of Prayer. Re: The Cherry Bombs: I love these guys and I’ve never heard or seen a better live band, but is this ass-chew-lips thing really the best country song of the year? And I love Tift Merritt, but is her nomination for country album of the year maybe an album or two late or even premature? Four of the five nominees for contemporary blues album are white men. There is now a category for “best surround sound album.”

Finally, you will be thrilled to know that Bill Clinton is nominated for the second year in a row (for the spoken word version of his memoir). He snared a Grammy last year in the spoken word album for children category for Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf/Beintus: Wolf Tracks with fellow winners, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and Italian actress Sophia Loren. His wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, was nominated last year in the spoken word album category for her bestselling memoirs Living History, but she lost to Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Great artists, all.