Lee Ann Womack, "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone" (ATO Records)
After a long sojourn, Lee Ann Womack got her mojo back on 2014's "The Way I'm Living," and now she's returned to her native East Texas to make "The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone," as good an album as she's ever done.
Produced again by her husband, Frank Liddell, the set relies more on Womack's songwriting than before. She co-wrote six of the 14 tunes, including down-on-your-luck opener "All the Trouble" and the desolate "Hollywood," portraying a relationship (barely) going through the motions.
The magnificent "He Called Me Baby" comes down somewhere between Charlie Rich's version, a country chart-topper, and Candi Staton's soulful reading, while her take on popular murder ballad "Long Black Veil" emphatically transmits its needless tragedy.
On "Mama Lost Her Smile," she searches in vain through a box of photographs only to find that "you don't take pictures/of the bad times/we only want to remember all the sunshine." During "Somebody Else's Heartache," another Womack co-write, she makes a convincing case that the misery is still hers, too.
The album was recorded mostly at Houston's SugarHill Studios, where Womack got to sing fellow Texan George Jones' redemptive "Take the Devil Out of Me," who cut his original version nearly 60 years ago.
Once a stalwart of contemporary country, Womack's career has darted between categories. She scored a huge crossover hit with "I Hope You Dance" in 2000 and now you'll find her in the Americana section of music magazines.
Whatever the label, she's achieved a natural blend of styles bonded together by her country roots and her flair for evolving outside the box.
"The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone" offers ample rewards to unprejudiced listeners.