October 19, 2008
Few modern-day artists make country music hurt as good as Lee Ann Womack. A master of the sorrowful song, she has assembled an almost painfully sad collection in Call Me Crazy, the long-awaited follow-up to her award-winning There’s More Where That Came From.
Never before has she so deeply explored the darker shades of love and life with such a sense of misery and resignation. Indeed, some of the album’s best moments are also its most desperate. Lead single and opening track “Last Call” finds her ruminating that the only love she gets is when there’s whiskey on his breath, while “Have You Seen That Girl” has her mourning the bright-eyed and optimistic girl she used to be, and wondering, “Where along the way did I lose me?”
Womack is a co-writer on the latter track, and it’s worth noting that she had a hand in writing three of the strongest tracks on the album. Another one of her contributions is “If These Walls Could Talk”, which is a harrowing portrait of domestic intranquility. Things are so bad in this home that the only one praying for the family is the five-year old daughter, “two little hands folded tight by her bedside, asking ‘Jesus will my family be okay’?”
Nearly as bad off is the married couple in “Either Way”, possibly the album’s strongest track. As she surveys the loveless wasteland that their marriage has become, she notes that they only talk “when the monthly bills are due” and that “we go to work, we go to church, we fake the perfect life.” Worn down and emotionless, she reaches a firm conclusion: “You can go or you can stay. I won’t love you either way.”
The third track that Womack co-wrote is one of the few positive moments of the album, “New Again.” It’s something of a spiritual successor to Dolly Parton’s “The Bargain Store”, as she thanks God for those who can see the beauty in damaged goods and make the old new again. It’s one of the few rays of light in an album of shadows and clouds, letting a little hope shine through with its mere presence.
Qhile there’s nothing inherently wrong with an album dominated by downbeat material, Call Me Crazy is hindered by its near-lifeless production. Much like with his later work with Reba McEntire and his one album with Trisha Yearwood, producer Tony Brown doesn’t find the courage to go strongly in one direction to make the whole project sound distinctive and compelling. The arrangments lack both the grandeur and bombast of great pop and the authenticity of traditional country, settling for a weak-kneed alchemy of the two instead.
As a result, the album’s songs begin to blur together, rather than sounding like individual elements of a cohesive whole. It doesn’t help matters that there’s some largely indifferent material scattered among the standout tracks, like the late country legend name-dropping “I Think I Know” and the flaccid cover of George Strait’s “The King of Broken Hearts.” Even the intriguing philosophical numbers “The Bees” and “Story of My Life” don’t reach their potential because the arrangements and Womacks’ delivery feel so detached.
So while there are some truly sublime moments on Call Me Crazy, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, making this more akin to Something Worth Leaving Behind than There’s More Where That Came From. The jarring contrast between the album’s packaging and its actual contents muddy the water even further. It’s hard to shake the sense that there wasn’t a clear vision about the direction in which this project should go. Fortunately, Womack is such a talented performer that the album still satisfies in many ways, but it’s not quite up to the bar she has set so high with her best work.