Lee Ann Womack wasn’t awake when her cell phone went off with news that The Way I’m Livin’, her stripped raw take on progressive/hard roots country, had a GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Album. The dark horse collection – originally recorded for Universal Music Group at the behest of then-head Luke Lewis, ultimately released by the longstanding high-integrity label Sugar Hill Records– was made as a testament to great songs, incredible musicianship and Womack’s pristine bar-room soprano.
“I, uhm…,” the sleepy East Texan started, waking up in the back room of her tour bus, where she’s headlining the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow, OK. “I didn’t even remember it was today. But man, this sure makes me feel like real music still matters… that all these wonderful players… and songwriters who write to tell stories, to show life all splintered and rough… and honestly, the kind of country music I love have a place in this world.”
Certainly the critics have recognized Womack’s passion. The New York Times proclaimed, “Ms. Womack is an exceptional singer with a plangent voice designed for lingering on the notes and words, especially plaintive ones… when Ms. Womack is allowed to luxuriate in her anguish, she is entrancing,” while The Wall Street Journal – who debuted The Way I’m Livin’ – raved, “She digs in like she’s making up for lost time…,”USA Today gave her a rare **** out of **** review – and the Associated Press offered, “Womack is one of American music’s most powerful interpreters of good material, whatever the genre.”
Music lovers across genres agree. In addition to her triumph of the national anthem with legendary steel guitarist Paul Franklin at the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles Thanksgiving face-off, Womack was part of a PBS special with the Fairfield Four and the McCrary Sisters featuring Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller and Amos Lee, a CMT “Crossroads” with John Legend, cohosted the International Bluegrass Music Awards with Jerry Douglas and sang at Maya Angelou’s Celebration of Joy Rising memorial service.
“I believe people find their lives, especially when they’re hurt or need inspiration in music,” the GRAMMY-winning vocalist says. “It’s too important to lose track of how a steel guitar note bends, how Mac McAnally plays that hesitant gospel piano part on ‘Send It On Down’ or someone like Mindy Smith takes doubt and transforms it into the faith of ‘All His Saints’… It may not save the world, but I want to believe it can change even a few lives.”
NPR’s Ken Tucker certainly sees that. On Fresh Air, the noted critic said, “That audience wants to hear her traditionalist style as a kind of realism — one that connects to feelings they have about the world around them just now. And in the strength of her vocals, her audience can take some strength for their own lives.”
For Womack, who hit Americana’s Top 10 for the first time, The Way I’m Livin’ is an album that represents a record made for the sake of the songs, the sheer joy of playing and all the subtle, conflicted emotions life can hold. With the songs of Julie Miller, Hayes Carll, Mindy Smith, Chris Knight, Bruce Robison, Mando Saenz, several first time writers and Roger Miller’s last Top 10, the eclecticism speaks straight to the heart – and this morning, the NARAS’s musician-, producer-, engineer- and songwriter-voting body.