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Lee Ann Womack

I Hope You Dance – 2000 (MCA)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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CDs by Lee Ann Womack

Give Lee Ann Womack credit. After the fall-off in sales from her first album to her second, the pressure to fall into tighter step with country radio on her third one must have been considerable. Instead, she's made an album that ranges more broadly than ever, putting her on shaky ground when it comes to labelling, but on stronger artistic turf than ever.

Womack's been described as a "traditionalist," and there are certainly some solid country numbers here, like the opening ballad, "The Healing Kind" (written by bluegrassers Ronnie Bowman and Greg Luck; Ricky Skaggs sings harmony) and her cover of "Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good," a hit for Don Williams back in 1982. Still, this is not a traditionally-oriented album. Neither, however, is it very radio-friendly; the mood is too dark, and the songs too - well, too good - to be automatically appealing to programming consultants. If cuts like Buddy Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?" make it onto country radio, it will be a big surprise, even if the production here hews more closely to the mainstream than to the writer's rootsy sound.

Yet when all is said and done, this is one of those rare triumphs - an album made to reflect a singer's personal vision, not the demands of narrow-minded adherents to any one brand of country music. Too "alt" for radio? Maybe. Too mainstream for Americana? Let's hope not. But even if the album has a hard time finding an audience, Lee Ann Womack will have the satisfaction of knowing it's a job well done, and that's a musician's ultimate reward.