Lee Ann Womack
There’s More Where That Came From
ee Ann Womack has hired a great graphic designer for her new album—the art looks like a shrunken down 45 from the 70s, with a gorgeous soft focus picture of her behind grass. It makes sense—it's a 70s singer songwriter album with a concentration of soft, lyrical delivery and complicated narratives of infidelity, love, age, and other heartbreaks.
It has some of the best features of the era as well. The proto-feminism of someone like Jennie C. Riley, the cleverness of Carly Simon, the emotional rawness Dolly Parton before the formal pop slickness of 9-5—it’s all here. It even has just enough twang—but that's claiming it’s an old Nashville album, a traditionalist ode perfect for the fly-in-amber No Depression crowd.
The brilliance of this album is that it knows its history, but collapses and expands it into a universe all its own. It refutes clichés by making them specific and adding details, fleshing them out into their own incidents. On the second track "One's A Couple Baby, Two's A Crowd"—-Womack literalizes the ghost of an old relationship, drinking in a motel alone, she refuses any suitor. The way she talks about it though—"they institutionalize people, baby for acting the way we do"—upturns every instance of crazy as shorthand for inconvenience.
The first single follows it in much the same way: the narrative starts tight until a cheap reversal manages to justify fucking people you really shouldn't fuck. “I might hate myself in the morning, but I will love you tonight.” The song is slow and hungry, with long pauses of fiddle and guitar—the soundtrack not to desperation, boredom, lust, or any of the other reasons everyone always gives—but to the most common one, a comfort that comes from self-loathing and inertia. Those confusions—-between lust, confusion, inertia, desire, sadness, and guilt mark the rest of the album.
Take the requisite cheating song—with him working too long and too hard. Of course it doesn’t end up being the cheating song. It’s actually a song about how deeply lonely it is to stay at home—and she undersings it. No one else would undersing this: she makes it soft and conversational, two people over coffee in a kitchen in the suburbs of Dallas undersinging. But there is this chugging guitar line, and a intricate pedal steel, and a restlessness of the music, and a long long instrumental break, that effects what cannot be spoken. At the end, she leaves him—-not because he cheated, but because "he ought to know that by now" she was so lonely, so hard and so sad that she could not survive. And if it merely sounds like how Betty Friedan dealt with this 20 years ago, try watching ABC's Wife Swap. It’s more prevalent than you’d care to think: all of these stay-at-home mothers desperate and broken, lonely and happy and confused. The unsettling of feminisms is still seismic.
It continues this way, sordid tales of lost highway cafes, confusion, cheap (The honky-tonk rave-up “What I Like About Heaven” is actually an honest, old school ode to fucking—not the Vaseline on the lens, Tim McGraw/Faith Hill stuff) and expensive sex, redemption, joy, lost dreams, disappointment, pain, and great stretched metaphors (“Happiness” is so stretched to pieces, it has an absurdist, allegorical charm; “Painless” conflates domestic and personal chaos in an innovative brokenness, and its almost spoken/sung in places)
Some of it is a little too obvious—“When You Get To Me,” is trying too hard to be an anthem on CMT. “Waiting for the Sun” is too slow and too sad, it could stand to be a bit more bluegrassy but its placement is a bit tepid and its instrumentation doesn’t take nearly enough risks.
One song that doesn't take risks, and the emotional complexity and resonance that matches the skill and talent of anyone working in Nashville—and a refusal to accept the standard lines about domesticity, religion, or anything else makes this album a masterpiece. The two lyrics "I am surrounded by the demons in this room" and "I cannot remember how to pray anymore" are perhaps the best way to think of this album—a voyage through the wilderness, a wild and honest searching for "this molecule of faith in this room / What they used to call the mustard seed." Christ told us that to have the faith of the mustard seed would save us—Womack has that faith in her unique and uncompromised voice. We should as well.
Reviewed by: Anthony Easton
Reviewed on: 2005-03-23