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Lee Ann Womack hopes her music is worth leaving behind

By Tom Netherland, October 2002

Coming on the heels of the most successful album in her career, Lee Ann Womack should be riding high with a new album out and the title track near the top of the singles charts.

In fact, Womack, 36, seems conflicted between the art of making music and the need to enable her record company to wrack up boffo numbers at the cash register.

And instead of the constant touring grind, which so many artists must do to push their latest album, that's not going to be the case with Womack even though she is at a high point in her career.

In making "Something Worth Leaving Behind," the follow-up to the megaplatinum selling "I Hope You Dance," Womack says in a telephone interview from Nashville, "There was no big career strategy by any means."

But the Texan seems a bit on the restless side and comes off as being uncertain whether she wants to go through the same music making machinery in the near future.

"Was it hard finding those songs?" she says of the 13 on the disc, including two versions of the title track. "No, it wasn't a problem. It's trying to marry the stuff that I love and the commercial world that I find difficult. I've always felt that way."

"I'm always willing to try different things. I worked with three different producers on this and actually a fourth (for a song available only by buying a book, "Something Worth Leaving Behind").

Womack was looking for a cornerstone to the new album, much as "I Hope You Dance" was for her previous album.

The song, with Sons of the Desert contributing background vocals, was hugely successful.

A book spawned out of the song, a positive song about not letting life pass you by.

Womack had no doubts that the title song of the new recording was what she was looking for. "I knew that was the one," she says.

"Something Worth Leaving Behind" mines similar turf to "I Hope You Dance" in taking a look at the big picture. The title track, written by Brett Beavers and Tom Douglas, in its narrowest terms is about loving someone and leaving a mark on another's life. In broader terms, it cites Mozart, DaVinci and Jesus as people who left long-term marks on the world.

"I thought it was a great message," says Womack. "We're always hoping to do something that's worth leaving behind. We always want to make our mark and leave our legacy. I thought it was so poignantly said that you don't have to be Mozart or Leonardo DaVinci to leave our mark on the world. It's really the ordinary everyday people that make up the bulk of this world and what it is and what it becomes."

For Womack, the people who left their mark on her were her parents. Her father, Aubrey, was an educator in Jacksonville, Texas where they grew up and also played disc jockey at the local country radio stations KEBE and KOOI.

Womack recalled listening to him on the radio. Around town, he was something of a celebrity because everyone knew who he was. Folks like Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton visited the station, but Womack was too young to remember.

"I don't claim to have had a perfect (time) growing up," Womack says. "I would compare it somewhat to Mayberry. Things like honesty's the best policy. Things like hard work and honesty. Those are the things that I learned from my parents. Just real simple ways of looking at life."

Womack's love of country music persisted through high school. So much so that she wound up in a country music program at South Plains Junior College in Texas.

She attended school there and joined a group giving concerts.

But she soon was off to Nashville for Belmont College. Womack entered the music business program, learning about engineering, the nuts and bolts of copyright and sound.

And in a move that later would become fateful, she also interned at MCA Records. That was the only place Womack wanted to intern. She previously has described herself as having a "fascination" with the label that was home to folks like Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Steve Earle and Reba McEntire.

Womack hung in Nashville doing demos and some showcases of very traditional music. That led to a writing deal from Sony Tree Publishing and six months later a record deal with Decca, a part of MCA.

Womack released her first single in March 1997, a very traditional "Never Again, Again," which got her some airplay and in the lower 20s on the Billboard charts.

Most would think of that as not too shabby a start for a brand new artist.

But not Womack.

"It wasn't what you would exactly call radio friendly," says Womack of the song. "But it was what it was. It was what I loved. It went to 17 (on another chart) and died."

More than five years later, Womack still seems upset about the failure of the song to score big.

"Every once in awhile, I have a huge hit," says Womack. "Most of what we do doesn't zoom to number one and stay there."

Womack may be a tougher critic on herself that she should allow. In fact, her next two singles, both in 1997, - "The Fool" and "You've Got to Talk to Me" - both hit number 2.

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