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Lee Ann Womack hopes to join the big (country) dance

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 2000

First single from a new artist climbs up the charts. You'd think the singer would be ecstatic watching her career on the rise especially with a traditional sound during a non-traditional sounding era.

But the experience of seeing "Never Again, Again" rise and then stagnate before becoming a break out hit left Lee Ann Womack feeling glum. She probably got glummer when her second album was derailed due to her record label folding. Womack, not seemingly one attuned to how many albums she's scanned, took time off to have her second child, a risky break in the ever fickle flavor-of-the-month record business.

But the Texas native is anything but feeling down in the dumps about her new third album, "I Hope You Dance" co-produced by Mark Wright and husband Frank Liddell.

"The main goal of myself and the label was to take me to a different level as an artist through the music, the packaging, everything, the video. Everything that we're coming with is new here," Womack says from Minneapolis during a stop on a promotional tour. "My previous two records were on Decca. This is my first for MCA.""I had taken quite a bit of time off to have the baby," says Womack, who already had one daughter with now ex-husband Jason Sellers. "Obviously, she was very unexpected...That was a huge surprise. Then, Decca closed. That was another huge surprise.

"I had to take a few steps and (think) where am I going with this," says Womack, choosing her words carefully. "I didn't want to be guilty of jumping back in too quickly. I've seen artists do that and make a huge mistake, throwing another record out."

"I've seen artists kind of get on shaky ground, and they've begun to look like they were on shaky ground. So, I wanted to make a very good, solid record," she says. "I knew I was taking quite a bit of a chance being out of the public for awhile."

"I was going to have to anyway - take some time off," she says due to the birth of Anna Lisa.

"I felt if I took care of my family and the music and the time it took to cultivate those things, at the end it would pay off in a bigger way."

""I have learned a lot as a singer. As a vocalist, I'm constantly learning, so I've had the benefit of having made two other albums and then also of having been out on tour. So, obviously the more you do something, the better you get at it. I'm definitely approaching this album as a better singer than I was able to the first two albums."

Song-wise this time around, Womack, who wrote one song with Sillers, alternates between Nashville stalwarts like Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers (the title track and first single) and Don Schlitz ("Why Call It Falling") to edgy country folks like Buddy and Julie Miller ("I Know Why the River Runs" and "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger") and Bruce Robison ("Lonely, Too").

Womack makes it quite clear the songs matter.

"Just as important to me as a trained vocalist - pitch or control - is for a singer to be able to deliver a lyric. I would think it would be tough to deliver a serious message if you were not able to approach it with some sort of knowledge of it. I've been doing quite a bit of living over the past few years, so I've been able to pour that into the lyrics."

"Those songs are all a little bit meatier than your average country (songs)," she says. "I've cut some Buddy and Julie before ("Don't Tell Me") and cut some of those (edgy) things before, but I have more of it on this record."

"I certainly did not say I'm going to cut more Buddy and Julie stuff or Bruce Robison or whatever. It kind of annoyed when I hear other artists say, 'I'm looking for songs of substance.' You have to go around telling people that?"

"I'm constantly listening. Those are the artists that I listen to. (MCA executive) Frank's (Liddell) the one who turned me onto those artists. They're just great songs. I fell in love with their records. Hopefully at the end of my career, people will say she knew a great song."

"If you're not just hearing, but you're also feeling at the same time, that's when you know you have something special," says Womack. "It wasn't just an audible thing. I just felt something. I always figure if it moves me, it will someone else too."

"I try to make decisions based on that rather than how many copies it will sell. When you start like that, I feel you will lose something creatively. I don't try to think. I try to feel. That's what goes into the records, and hopefully that's what people will notice."

The first single is the title track with fellow MCA act Sons of the Desert helping out on backing vocals.

Womack first heard the song at a listening session where songs are presented for possible inclusion.

"I knew from the get go that type of thing was very special. I'm sitting there about half way through the demo listening and thinking 'am I a lucky girl or not?' Those are the kind of songs they want to pitch to the biggest artists, so I felt very very lucky and very very fortunate to have it. It was one of those things that everything fell into place from the very beginning - from the song to the video - without even having to talk to each other. I knew I wanted to have my girls in the video from the very beginning. I knew I wanted the Sons of the Desert. As soon as I listened the first time, I said to Mark I wanted Sons to sing the other part. It was so easy. Everything flowed nicely."

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