The title of Lee Ann Womack’s new album, Call Me Crazy, begs the obvious question: Does the singer really consider herself crazy?
“I think it’s more important what other people think!” she says with a burst of laughter that is more infectious than insane. “I mean, I don’t really think I’m that wild and crazy, not compared to the artists that I listened to.” In other words, she might close down the bar, but her riding lawnmower won’t be parked outside.
Since 1997, Womack has publicly followed a path from neo-traditionalism (“The Fool”) to mainstream crossover success (“I Hope You Dance”) and back again (the CMA-winning album, There’s More Where That Came From). On Call Me Crazy, she still finds room for twin fiddles — “it’s one of my favorite sounds in the whole world” — although she has slightly toned down the twang. The first single, “Last Call,” is essentially a sequel to another of her hits, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” This time, however, she declines the drunken booty call.
Asked if anyone’s ever suggested to her that women shouldn’t record drinking songs, she shrugs and says, “Nobody’s ever suggested that I shouldn’t. I have definitely heard the argument that women don’t. I don’t know why. Women drink! So what difference does it make?”
She certainly doesn’t shy away from recording challenging songs. “Either Way” bluntly describes a marriage that’s over, although the household hasn’t splintered off just yet. Meanwhile, “The Bees” might make sense if you’ve read the book that inspired it, The Secret Life of Bees. But if you haven’t, the lyrics are a real head-scratcher. (She says it’s “for the listener to take however they want to. It’s not real literal. Everything doesn’t tie up real neatly.”) The melody, however, is hypnotic, and guest vocals from Keith Urban don’t hurt either.
“I am drawn to songs that make you feel something,” says Womack, who is married to Nashville music publisher and producer Frank Liddell. “Occasionally, it might be funny or make you feel good, but a lot of the ones I’m drawn to, I touch on subjects that people just don’t anymore. Even though we all have those same emotions — the whole world does.”
Today, Womack shares management with George Strait, one of her earliest musical heroes. On Call Me Crazy, Strait shows up on a duet that Womack co-wrote, “Everything but Quits.” (They won a CMA Award in 2005 for another duet, “Good News, Bad News.”) She confesses she’s awestruck whenever she’s around him.
“The things he’s been able to pull off, it’s amazing, and still maintain such a state of normalcy. He has no ego. He’s a normal, regular guy,” she says. “He’s very easygoing. He’s down to earth and normal. He’s not self-absorbed. Most artists are a little narcissistic. It’s just a quality that enables you to get up in front of thousands of people and sing. But he just seems to have less of those traits than most.”
Of course, Strait’s early albums on MCA Records were produced by Tony Brown, who also helmed pivotal albums by Vince Gill and Reba McEntire — two of Womack’s favorite singers. So when Womack moved from Jacksonville, Texas, to Nashville to attend Belmont University, she hatched a plan.
“I came to town, so naïve, thinking, ‘I’m going to town, and I’m going to find this Tony Brown guy, and he’s going to make me a star!’ And I did just that. I came to town and found Tony Brown and started interning at the record label where he was. But we just now made a record together, and it was great to be able to do that. I still get a little starstruck around him, too.”
“I think a singer’s job is multi-faceted,” she says. “A singer should be able to deliver a lyric in a way that draws people in and makes them want to hear what’s going on, what’s gonna happen, where is it going? I believe that’s what’s been great in the past about country music. We’ve had singers that you believe when you hear them. I hope that I’m one of those kinds of singers. That’s important to me.”
Womack will tour to help promote Call Me Crazy and says that she enjoys playing live now more than ever.
“I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t do it by rote,” she says. “I’ve gotten so comfortable with the musicians in my band. Literally, there are some nights that I will turn around and call out an old country song to them that we’ve never done. They’ll all look at each other, but they do it. I know what they know, you know? I’ll see one calling out the chords to another, because a couple of my guys have a little more pop/R&B background, but those are the most fun nights.”
When she graciously accepts a compliment about her studio rendition of Don Williams’ “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good,” from a few albums back, she says, “I’ve done ‘Til the Rivers All Run Dry’ and ‘If I Needed You,’ too. They just haven’t come out. … They’re on my computer. I’ve got all kinds of stuff I’ve cut on my computer, with just guitar and vocals, that I just want to have down. I don’t know what I’ll do with them.”
But there is one thing you’ll probably never hear from her — and that’s a generic “I’m country and here’s why” song. Asked how often she hears that type of song in the demo pile, she replies, “Too often. To me, country is not something you can tell people you are. Country is not something you can put on or take off. It’s not a certain way you dress. And if you have to tell people in a song, ‘I’m country,’ then I start wondering. You should be able to hear it.”