Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy

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October 19, 2008

Lee Ann Womack
Call Me Crazy

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.

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  1. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    Uh oh.. are we going to have another angry producer defending his work? :P

  2. rockymtrangerNo Gravatar says:

    I’ll still pick it up, but that’s a shame that it really doesn’t have the cohesion of the last record. “There’s More” was just a brilliant record from start to finish, and I’ve had high hopes for the follow-up.

  3. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    This is reminding me of Faith Hill’s “Cry” which was too serious but still good. It’s too bad Lee Ann didn’t work with a better producer, but I guess I’ll just have to buy it and see ;)

  4. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve heard the entire album and I agree…it’s not as good as “There’s More…” but I still like it.I love anything Lee Ann does and this is no exception!

  5. bob says:

    is “new again” the same one that brad paisley and sara evans did? it sounds kinds similar

  6. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar says:

    Lee Ann’s ‘New Again’ is actually a different song, Bob.

    I felt this album was much better than I had expected, after reading some advance reviews. I expected a more pop-leaning album in the vein of Something Worth Leaving Behind. The album comes off as more of a hybrid of Something… and There’s More Where That Came From than a sequel to the latter.

    I still think it’s a stellar album with some really brilliant moments – ‘Have You Seen That Girl’, which reminds me a lot of ‘Twenty Years And Two Husbands Ago’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Bees’.

    I’d have given it the other half-star …

  7. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    I seesaw between 3.5 and 4 stars.

    This album has a couple weak spots(i.e. “I Found It In You” and “The Story of My Life”), and I would’ve preferred a tad more electricity (a few extra fiddle notes, a little more steel).

    But overall, it’s still rooted in country and includes some fine songwriting (I agree, Kevin, the Womack tracks are the cream of the crop.). Womack is a throwback to the old generation, and she deserves to be rewarded for her rich vocals and smart music sense.

  8. Jim MalecNo Gravatar says:

    I disagree about the production, although I do understand why you would raise the point that you did. This is a very detailed album, and that’s one of the things I like about it…sure, we could have a killer fiddle riff here, or a cool steel lick there, but would that really make the record distinct? Everybody is doing that.

    What I love about this record is its sparseness and its attention to detail in terms of instrumental delineation. Each instrument occupies a certain space in the mix, and the result is a record that has (literal) depth.

    Do I think everyone will pick up on that? No, I think it will be lost on most mainstream junkies, who want a musical hook that they can easily latch on to, as well as a portion of the Alties who are used to hearing very “edgy” arrangements and mixes.

    The production is quite creative, though heavily nuanced.

  9. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Good points, Jim. I will say my opinion is in between yours and Kevin’s. I agree that certain unique elements in these songs lift it above being bland (“Solitary Thinkin’” and “The Bees”, for example). Womack’s voice is best served with understated musicianship.

    I’d argue that the real country instruments that most artists/producers add to songs with little thought sound so much more natural and considered under Womack’s control, and that’s how I prefer to hear her. I feel that instrumentation, even on the slow, sad ballads, adds energy to her performances. I do applaud her for taking some creative risks here, though.

  10. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    Hmmm… I’m interested to listen to this album tomorrow now. I know I’ll love it either way, but I think I like what Jim was talking about, an attention to detail. I personally love the two leaked tracks, so i think I’ll enjoy the album as a whole.

  11. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    Blake,

    Despite you calling it a weaker track, “I Found It In You” is likely to be a future single and I see the ‘mainstream junkies’ will eat it up.

  12. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    I’m used to my least favorite songs being sent to radio. That’s me being difficult again. :) Anything to have Womack back on country playlists would be terrific, although “Last Call” keeps creeping up the charts. What’d you think of the album as a whole?

  13. Matt BNo Gravatar says:

    well, since you asked:
    http://www.roughstock.com/reviews/lee-ann-womack–call-me-crazy

    As a whole I felt it’s an amalgam of popish current fare and the traditional fare of the last record. I generally liked her co-writes a lot but I did love “The Bees.” quite a bit.

  14. Blake,

    I came close to giving it 4 stars but I couldn’t quite justify it. There’s a bit too much filler. Even some of the songs that I thought were standouts the first listen through didn’t sound quite so impressive with repeated listening.

  15. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Matt,

    I check your site routinely. How’d I miss the review? *shakes fist

    Kevin,

    3.5 is probably right. I’m a little unsatisfied with the album, but it beats most of what I’ve heard lately.

  16. That’s the conundrum, isn’t it? It’s leagues better than so much of contemporary country music, but not up to Womack’s usual standard. I’d actually rate it a notch or two below Something Worth Leaving Behind, but there are some tracks (“Either Way”, especially) that rank among her greatest work.

  17. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    I’d have to disagree slightly. Something isn’t a travesty, but it has a few troubling moments (“Let’s Surrender” springs to mind). I’d rate it a 3.5 for a few great songs and Womack’s well-rendered vocals, of course.

    On the other hand, There’s More is a modern-day classic with just a few very small errors, so I’d call that a 4.5.

    In the end, call me crazy, but I change my mind again and I’m back at 4 stars for this one. (Imagine if I’d reviewed it–I never would’ve finished.)

  18. CFNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for the reviews!

    I haven’t gotten the album yet, and have only heard three songs from it so far, and will definitely picky up my copy tomorrow. I’m thinking, since we agree on lots of things, I’ll probably agree with Kevin’s review.

  19. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    Well, according to the packaging on the album, the nest two singles will most likely be “Solitary Thinkin’” and “Everything But Quits”. Hopefully the duet with George Strait will put her back on the charts…

    I picked up the album, and I highly enjoy it so far, I’m halfway through “The Bees”, I love that song…

  20. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    I finally listened to this album tonight and I mostly agree with Kevin’s assessment.

    I’ll admit, however, that I’ve never really acquired much of a taste for Lee Ann’s music overall.

    As Blake once said…peace, love and understanding!:) Please!?

  21. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    Not this time, Leeann.

    Jokes aside, I still feel that Womack has the potential to make an even better complete album than exists in her catalog so far. There’s More is close, but she could deliver even better I believe.

    Leeann, is there a Womack track or even an album that you prefer?

  22. CFNo Gravatar says:

    I would give the album either a 3.5 to 4.0 (somewhere in the middle… maybe 3.75? lol) because while I enjoyed it, for the most part, and there are some great highlights, I am slightly disappointed. Don’t know how to describe it, but production could have been better on some songs. Surprisingly, I’d say my least favorite would be “New Again” (but it’s still a nice song).

    I wonder what Byron Gallimore would have done with this album if he had produced it?

  23. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Blake, I’ll have to think about your questions. I don’t own any of Lee Ann’s albums because I haven’t liked enough of her songs to buy one. I was interested in this one though, because of the reports of stripped down productions. It just didn’t work for me in the end though.

    CF, I didn’t like her voice on “New Again”. She seemed to have difficulty on the higher notes there.

  24. Well I actually skipped a class today just so I could go to the mall to buy this one, and I’ve gotta say…I should’ve went to class. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, but I was a little dissapointed after listening throught it the first time. I had another listen a few hours later and I was able to better appreciate it, but I’m still a little dissapointed. My favorite track ended up being “Last Call” but I was really impressed with “The Bees” for some reason. The George Strait cover is the biggest mistake on here.

  25. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    Sort of a disappointing album – suffers fromt the same flaws as Alan Jackson’s LIKE RED ON A ROSE – the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I liked most of the songs, but too many of similar tempo plus, as another noted, it needs more steel and fiddle

  26. Drive-byJerry says:

    I’m only half- way thru. I can’t fully absorb an album until the tenth or fifteenth listen, so this is not a review of the album. I can say that she sounds as good as ever. By that, I mean the GREATEST COUNTRY SINGER WHO EVER LIVED !!!!! Please don’t mention Faith Hill in the same week as you say L.A.W.’s name. That’s like comparing Nuke La Louche to Babe Ruth. If this was a remake of Milli Vanilli’s first record it would be the best country album to come out in three years.

  27. PeterNo Gravatar says:

    haha Nuke LaLouche – great reference there…

    I love The Bees but agree that tempo is an issue here.

  28. Hard TimesNo Gravatar says:

    I’m obsessed with “Bees” — can’t stop listening to it, even though I have absolutely no idea what it means. Help? Anybody?

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