Lee Ann Womack, "The Way I'm Livin'" (Sugar Hill)
For more than a decade, Lee Ann Womack ranked as the most traditional female artist in contemporary country music, holding on to old-school values in themes and arrangements as others in the genre kept incorporating more pop rhythms and rock energy.
With the beautiful and moving "The Way I'm Livin'," her first album in six years, Womack turns completely against the grain of modern Nashville. Instead, she focuses on stripped-down, emotionally raw songs that bring out the best in her voice, which sounds as tender and expressive as ever.
Her husband Frank Liddell, who also produces Miranda Lambert and David Nail, sets Womack amid a small ensemble of studio experts who play with restraint yet match her emotional tone. The songs range from devastating narratives, such as the title song (written by Adam Wright), to spirituals (Mindy Smith's "All His Saints"), off-kilter love songs ("Same Kind Of Different") and well-selected covers of Hayes Carll, Julie Miller, Bruce Robison and Neil Young.
"The Way I'm Livin'" isn't retro or old-fashioned. It simply presents an alternative direction of where modern country music could go, one that probes the way people live in a more realistic manner than the party-without-consequences themes dominating contemporary country radio. It also serves as a reminder that Womack is one of American music's most powerful interpreters of good material, whatever the genre.