Album Review: Lee Ann Womack - “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone”

How do you follow-up one of the best albums of your career? If you're Lee Ann Womack, you record this album.

After taking a six year break between the release of albums Call Me Crazy and The Way That I’m Livin’, Lee Ann Womack only took a meer 3 years to come up with The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, a 14 song affair that took Lee Ann Womack back to her native Texas for recording at Sugar Hill Studios in Houston. These songs, released via her new deal with ATO Records, are largely newly-written material from a core group of collaborators, a departure from The Way That I’m Livin’s collection sourced from (fantastic) outside writers. Of the 14 songs on The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, 10 are new songs and the others are familiar iconic songs. It’s a mix that works and works well.

The opening 1-2 punch of “All The Trouble” and “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone” offer up what makes Lee Ann Womack the great artist that she is. She wrings emotion from every nuanced lyric and imbues it with that impressive soprano voice that was destined to sing country songs that aren’t always happy. Take “Mama Lost Her Smile,” a song Lee Ann co-wrote with Waylon Payne and Adam Wright. She sings of the very real thing where the world of pictures from her family’s past don’t exactly have the same kind of vibe that modern day Instagram and Facebook feeds have. That is, we’re always “on” in those photos and in the past people often weren’t.

Another stunner -- with a George Harrison-esque arrangement -- “Shine On Rainy Day” is song originally recorded by both songwriters (Andrew Combs & Brent Cobb) on their own albums. Here, Womack and her production team of Frank Liddell, Mike McCarthy, & Glenn Worf blend some interesting instrumental sounds which make it feel like a song which would’ve easily found a home on Harrison's iconic All Things Must Pass. Lee Ann Womack's take on the Harlan Howard classic “He Called Me Baby” may not change much in arrangement but it does feel retro-cool and allows for the balance of an uptempo soul to blend with Lee Ann’s aching vocal (and overal melancholic and laid back vibe to The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone). Anther retro-inspired song is “Hollywood.” This story song features a melancholic melody and story as the narrator in the throes of a dead-end relationship/marriage.

Classic country sounds make up “Somebody Else’s Heartache” with simple acoustic’s backing up Lee Ann while the Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson co-write, “Talking Behind Your Back” finds Lee Ann Womack in the role of ‘the rebound’ and the song finds her achingly describing that her own relationship has no shot because the man she likes (or loves) is still in love with his ex. There’s no doubting the power a voice and a simple production can have as Lee Ann Womack proves with “End of the World.”

There’s something remarkable about the music that Lee Ann Womack makes. Freed from mainstream radio concerns, she’s reached the point in her career where she can find or write songs she likes and record them in any way she and her collaborators choose. It’s what made The Way That I’m Livin’ such a fine album and it’s what makes The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone an even better record and clearly one of 2017’s best records. In any genre.