100 Greatest Women, #33: Lee Ann Womack

100 Greatest Women

#33

Lee Ann Womack

When she released her debut album in 1997, she was widely hailed as the great hope for traditional country music, a much-needed counterpoint to the pop crossover sounds that were beginning to dominate the genre. With time, Womack would prove that she wasn’t so easy to pigeonhole.

She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a country radio disc jockey. Her dad turned her on to the sounds of classic country music and she was smitten. When the time came for college, she attended South Plains Junior College in Texas, since it was the only school she could find that offered a major in country music. She took the next logical step and moved to Nashville after that, attending Belmont University for a brief time.

While at the school, she interned at MCA Records. She was a dedicated follower of George Strait, and it was his label where she wanted to record. By the early nineties, she had settled down in Nashville with a husband and young child, while building up her songwriting catalog and putting on showcases. Tree Publishing caught a showcase, heard her demo and signed her. She scored some cuts on albums by Bill Anderson and Ricky Skaggs, but her stint as a staff writer was short-lived. Decca, an imprint of MCA, signed her to her own recording contract, and she started work on her debut album.

By the time it was ready for release in the spring of 1997, the biggest female artists in country music were pop-country superstar Shania Twain and teenage phenom LeAnn Rimes. While Rimes had flirted with classic country on her debut single “Blue,” Womack reveled in it on her entire debut album. The eponymous set featured guest appearances by Ricky Skaggs, Mark Chesnutt and The Whites. The lead single “Never Again, Again” topped out at No. 22, but record buyers hungry for traditional country made her album an instant hit, reaching the top ten within weeks of release. Radio jumped on the next two singles, “The Fool” and “You’ve Got to Talk To Me.” The album went platinum, the CMA nominated her twice for the Horizon Award and, in 1998, the ACM named her Top New Female Vocalist.

She kept the momentum going with her sophomore set, Some Things I Know, in 1998. The gold-selling disc produced another pair of top five hits, including “A Little Past Little Rock,” which netted Womack her first Grammy nomination. But her big breakthrough came with the lead single and title cut from her third disc, “I Hope You Dance.”

Almost instantly, the tender wish list became an anthem, a mother’s day classic and a graduation staple. It topped the country chart, crossed over to pop and AC, and earned her a slew of awards, including three ACM’s and a CMA in 2000. On the strength of “Dance”, “Ashes By Now” and “Why They Call it Falling,” Womack was named CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 2001. The album would eventually sell three million copies.

In 2002, Womack had the opportunity to sing with one of her childhood idols, dueting with Willie Nelson on “Mendicino County Line.” The song was a top twenty hit, and won both the ACM and CMA for Vocal Event, and a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. That same year, Womack released her ambitious fourth album, Something Worth Leaving Behind. It featured more challenging and off-beat material than she’d done before, along with a pop-flavored production that disappointed her purist fans. While radio didn’t embrace the project, the album went gold and the title track earned her another Grammy nomination.

Changes at her label and disappointment with the response to Behind led Womack to take her time working on her next project. She was unsure of which direction to go in until her husband played her the demo of a song he’d heard at work that day, “I’m Gonna Love You Tonight.” Her mouth dropped open when she heard the chorus, and she suddenly knew what direction her next project would go in. The song was chosen as the lead single, and retitled “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” to draw more attention to the money line in the chorus.

The song struck a deep chord with country listeners, and her album There’s More Where That Came From became her highest charting album to date when it entered at #12 on the Billboard 200. The ACM nominated her for Single and Album of the Year in the Spring of 2005, but the CMA went much further the following fall. Womack was the belle of the ball, winning Single and Album of the Year, along with Musical Event for her duet with her favorite singer, George Strait.

In 2006, Womack was back again with a new single, “Finding My Way Back Home.” The upbeat song reached a disappointing No. 37, and the planned album of the same name was pushed back from its planned release. While concrete reports of her upcoming recordings are hard to come by, she has committed to some limited touring dates this year, so fans have some respite while they pine for long-awaited new music from Lee Ann Womack.

Lee Ann Womack

Essential Singles

  • “Never Again, Again”, 1997
  • “A Little Past Little Rock”, 1998
  • “I Hope You Dance” (with Sons of the Desert), 2000
  • “Mendicino County Line” (with Willie Nelson), 2002
  • “Something Worth Leaving Behind”, 2002
  • “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”, 2004

Essential Albums

  • Some Things I Know, 1998
  • I Hope You Dance, 2000
  • Something Worth Leaving Behind, 2002
  • There’s More Where That Came From, 2005

Industry Awards

  • ACM Top New Female Vocalist, 1998
  • ACM Single (“I Hope You Dance”), 2001
  • ACM Song (“I Hope You Dance”), 2001
  • ACM Vocal Event (“I Hope You Dance”), 2001
  • ACM Vocal Event (“Mendicino County Line”), 2003
  • CMA Single (“I Hope You Dance”), 2000
  • CMA Female Vocalist, 2001
  • CMA Vocal Event (“Mendicino County Line”), 2002
  • CMA Album (There’s More Where That Came From), 2005
  • CMA Single (“I May Hate Myself in the Morning”), 2005
  • CMA Musical Event (“Good News, Bad News”), 2005
  • Grammy: Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (“Mendicino County Line”), 2003

==> #32. Lynn Anderson

<== #34. Jean Shepard

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16 Comments

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16 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #33: Lee Ann Womack

  1. Doug in MadisonNo Gravatar

    Love her. “There’s More Where That Came From” is a classic album that will only grow in stature. She also wrote a wonderful line for one of the songs on the album — “That was 20 years and two husbands ago.”

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  3. PeterNo Gravatar

    I became a fan the nanosecond I heard “Never Again, Again”. Interesting: that debut and Sara Evans’ debut “Three Chords And The Truth” (another late-90′s traditionalist touchstone) were released in the same week in 1997!

  4. bobbyNo Gravatar

    she’s probably my favorite female singer. i’m keeping my fingers crossed for new music from her soon!

  5. JaneNo Gravatar

    I really like Lee Ann’s music (Hope she releases the next album soon!)…. “There’s more where that came from” is such a great album, and I’ve always loved her song “I’ll think of a reason later.’

  6. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Lee Ann’s career to date has been a bit of a disappointment but her vocal chops make her a strong contender to rebound. I suspect she would be better served recording for an independent label so she could follow her own muse

  7. tomNo Gravatar

    forget for a moment her overall ranking and read through her list of awards won. after a well deserved “wow!”, check out her rank again – #33 – and the headscratching begins. it just doesn’t seem to add up.

    why? well my view is, that’s because lee ann womack is an artistic “piece” of “work in progress”, whose final shape still is pretty much undefined.
    after two easy to understand and easy to like albums, her “i hope you dance” record grew on me only very, very slowly. not even the title track can save the first half of the record from being an outright production cock-up, that could have easily ruined the entire project, if it hadn’t been for the strong second half to pull it back on track. while all her albums have seen solid triple digit playing on my player, her “something worth leaving behind” effort has been hardly ever touched after the initial listenings – in csi-terms an almost fingerprint-free zone, that cd-cover. but like all greats, she produced an ace, when it was most needed. moreover, “there’s more where…..”, was a winner of timeless quality.

    my prediction is that in ten years time she’ll be much higher on such a ranking but don’t expect a smooth ride. compared to her, dwight yoakam appears artistically almost predictable.

  8. Tom,

    Womack has said on many occasions that she’s modeling her career after Willie Nelson, who puts out different kinds of albums all of the time. Kinda makes sense through that prism.

    Regarding her albums, I was a late arrival to the “Dance” party, and while I agree with you that it’s the second half of that album that really soars, I think there are some great tracks early, particularly “I Know Why the River Runs” and the Bobbie Cryner-penned “Stronger Than I Am.”

    I think “Something Worth Leaving Behind” is a fascinating album, and I love the second half of it. I count “Blame it On Me”, “Closing This Memory Down” and the alternate version of the title track among my favorite Womack cuts of all time, meaning that when I make a CD mix of her, they jockey for early position along with “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”, “Stubborn” and “Lonely Too.”

  9. tomNo Gravatar

    perhaps i shouldn’t have taken the title of the “something worth leaving behind” album so literally and the time has come to put a few more fingerprints on the cover.

    yes, these songs you mentioned from the “dance” album are, individually seen/listened, great tracks but in combination, their impact is not as strong as it should be. i also think, that “ashes by now” would have been the perfect opener for the album.

  10. I often wonder what would have happened with Lee Ann’s career if she had released “There’s More Where That Came From” after “I Hope You Dance” instead of “Something Worth Leaving Behind”.

    “Something Worth Leaving Behind” did alienate a lot of her core, traditionalist fans. She never quit did get them all back. I fear she is probably seen the best of her commercial days.

    I don’t think there has ever been a case where and artist wins the CMA Album of the Year and then never put out a follow up album. It has been four years since “There’s More Where That Came From” was released still no follow up album.

  11. B. JonathanNo Gravatar

    Lee Ann Womack may be the most significant victim of the changing fortunes experienced by female artists in the 2000s. However, I believe her legacy will last much longer than many of her contemporaries. Her artistry would elevate her past a fair share of those women higher on this list. How the industry can honor her with so many awards, and yet struggle to find a place for her music is beyond me.

  12. Bubba the ElderNo Gravatar

    Or maybe she can pack the cash she has left in a suitcase with her integrity and jump totally into the artistic camp of current country, revelling in her collaborations with (among others) Buddy Miller and creating the alt-country hit that could do better justice to her fabulous voice than Nashville ever could.

  13. Bubba,

    I think she will do that, in due time. All of the great female artists have done just that, once they tired of chasing the mainstream audience. Womack has been somewhat subversive as a mainstream artist, though. “There’s More Where That Came From” could’ve just as easily been an alt-country album, what with it actually being country and all.

  14. CF

    Lee Ann is my #2 favorite female singer of all time behind Patty Loveless. I love almost everything Lee Ann has put out so far, even the “Something Worth Leaving Behind” album that a lot of people seem to not like (which I didn’t like at first either but after giving it more listens, I really grew to love it a lot).

    Btw: LAW has a single out called “Last Call”. It’s really good!:

    http://www.allaboutcountry.com/media/music/ram/Lee_Ann_Womack_-_Last_Call_85408.ram

  15. AllanLCampbellNo Gravatar

    Lee Ann Womack is one of my favorite singers. Her country albums her first three and the last one are great albums. It’s too bad country radio might not play her new songs.

  16. PatrickNo Gravatar

    I’m a bit suprised she wasn’t higher

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