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Womack Returns To The Spotlight With 'The Way I'm Livin' '


In the year 2000, singer Lee Ann Womack rode the crest of a country music wave with this song.


LEE ANN WOMACK: (Singing) And when you get to the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance. I hope you dance.

GOODWYN: "I Hope You Dance" was number one on the Billboard Country chart for five weeks and crossed over to the pop charts too. The record sold millions and over the next few years, she collected Grammy Awards and accolades from the press. But she hasn't recorded an album for a while. And with the release of her latest, one critic said that she digs in like she's making up for lost time.


WOMACK: (Singing) I said hail the western bound with his black tail flying. Lay on the rails and leave me to dream of when your love was mine.

GOODWYN: The album "The Way I'm Livin'" comes out Tuesday. And Lee Ann Womack joins us from the studios of WPLN in Nashville. Welcome, Lee Ann.

WOMACK: Thanks for having me.

GOODWYN: It's our pleasure. It's been a while since you last album, but that doesn't mean you haven't been making music.

WOMACK: Yeah. We're always making music around my house. My husband Frank Liddell is a producer and a publisher. And we have two daughters who are very much into music. And we have a lot of songwriters who are at our house all the time. So music is our work, but it's also just our life.

GOODWYN: Your husband, Frank Liddell, is producer of the new album. And it's a collection of cover songs by everyone from Mindy Smith to Neil Young to Buddy and Julie Miller. Let's listen to the title cut. It's written by Adam Wright - "The Way I'm Livin'."


WOMACK: (Singing) Now I sleep all day, and I'm out all night. And I can't tell wrong from right. You know I'd change if I could, but being bad - it feels so good. Singing, oh, mama, the way that I'm living - lying and sinning, and I just can't change.

GOODWYN: This is a desperate song from a woman who, though in her soul, she might like to change, knows she's not going to.

WOMACK: Yeah. You know, it's just sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you want to change or you want to do something different and you don't know if you're going to be able to. And I guess this song is just at a point where a person's sort of hit bottom.


WOMACK: (Singing) On the day I die when they lay me down, I know where my soul is bound. Don't you cry, and don't you weep 'cause it's too late to rescue me.

GOODWYN: You ever truly felt this badly?

WOMACK: (Laughter) Badly? I don't know if I've felt that bad, but I've certainly been in some situations where I thought, man, does it get better?

GOODWYN: Listening, I found a fairly strong spiritual element in the album. Let's listen to a bit of the Mindy Smith song "All His Saints."


WOMACK: (Singing) And all his saints will have the mercy of a life eternal. And all his saints will praise him in the light of the world. And all his saints will glorify the name of the Lord. I'm looking forward to the day love finally brings me home.

GOODWYN: That's a rocking spiritual, there.

WOMACK: (Laughter) It is. You know, I grew up in a real small town in east Texas. And church - it was such a big part of our lives there. I mean, it was our social life. We were there several times a week. We - my dad mowed the yard at the church. I mean, I guess all the guys took turns doing that. So we volunteered a lot there. And it was just a big part of our lives. And it is most people's lives there. And so when I was making this record and picking songs and stuff, I wanted to, you know, like I said, have things that were personal to me. And gospel music is a big part of my life.

GOODWYN: Did you want to make spirituality a big part of the music before, or were you drawn to music that was great and just happened to be spiritual?

WOMACK: I mean, I didn't say, hey, let's go find a gospel song if that's what you mean. Some of them, you know, showcase two sides - dark and light, you know. And so I think it's just a sort of a big part of the way I grew up.

GOODWYN: And is it still a big part of your life?

WOMACK: Yeah. It is. I mean, when you grow up like that and you learn to lean on something like that, it usually doesn't leave you.

GOODWYN: There's quite a variety of music. Let's listen to a Neil Young song, "Out On The Weekend." The opening reminded me a bit of Pink Floyd.


GOODWYN: I bet it's not often that your music is compared to Pink Floyd.

WOMACK: I don't believe I've ever heard that.


WOMACK: (Singing) I think I'll pack it in and buy a pickup. And take it down to LA.

GOODWYN: Lee Ann, there's a personal story behind the song. Tell me that story.

WOMACK: When Frank and I were dating, we were on a road trip. I don't remember where, but I remember I was asleep. It was night. I was asleep in the car, and I woke up. And he was playing the Neil Young record, the "Harvest" record. And I wasn't familiar with it. I didn't know it, and I had not grown up with it.

But "Out On The Weekend" was playing. And I thought, well, whatever that is, that's a song I could do. I could - you know, I could hear it almost done bluegrass - real rootsy, real acoustic. And he just loved it. You know, he was telling me all about how important the song was to him and everything. So in a few weeks from then, I had a show with Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale and some friends at South by Southwest. So we worked it up, and I did it that night to surprise Frank.

GOODWYN: Was he surprised?

WOMACK: He was very surprised. I always tell people I did to impress him, and he says it worked. We got married. I guess it worked.


WOMACK: (Singing) See the lonely girl out on the weekend trying to make it pay. Can't relate to joy. She tries to speak and can't begin to say.

GOODWYN: Does it feel to you like you're back? Were you gone, or did it just seem that way to some of your fans?

WOMACK: I guess it just seemed that way. I mean, I definitely took some time off of pursuing the spotlight - just didn't take time off of music.

GOODWYN: Lee Ann Womack - her new album "The Way I'm Livin'" comes out Tuesday. She joined us from the studios of WPLN Nashville. Lee Ann, thanks so much.

WOMACK: Thanks for having me.

GOODWYN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away on maternity leave. I'm Wade Goodwyn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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