Country's Womack enjoys the dance

Music: Singer vocal about her pleasure with new album, and those who helped her make it.

June 03, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It's Wednesday morning, and things are a little crazy around Lee Ann Womack's house.

Her third album, "I Hope You Dance," was released just the week before, and when Billboard magazine released its sales chart for the week, Womack was at No. 1. Needless to say, having the best-selling country album in America is cause for celebration, and so Womack wound up entertaining a few well-wishers.

"Actually, it's a lot of people," she says, laughing. "And the kids are running around." As she speaks, Anna, her youngest, squeals in the background, happily illustrating her mom's description.

"Anna quits for no one, I'll tell you that," says Womack, 33. "She doesn't care who's No. 1 this morning."

Not that her mom minds. In fact, Womack doesn't really cotton to the idea the she herself is No. 1, because she sees "I Hope You Dance" as more of a group effort, where the ideas of producers Mark Wright and Frank Liddell, along with the input of the musicians and the effort of her record company, combined to take this album to the top.

"A lot of times, it seems like the focus goes just to the artist," she says. "But there are so many people who make up the team. It's fun for me to get to celebrate with everybody who was a part of it, you know?"

Take, for instance, the job of deciding how the songs on the album should be arranged. "A lot of times, I'll know right when I hear a song how it should be arranged," she says. "Certainly on `The Healing Kind' or `Lord I Hope This Day Is Good' -- those were from my corner.

"But `Ashes By Now,' that was more Mark's thing than mine. And on `Does My Ring Burn Your Finger' and `I Know Why the River Runs,' those were more Frank's arrangements and ideas. So it kind of depends on the song."

Although Womack depends on her collaborators to bring their specific strengths to the album, she believes it's her responsibility to decide how, ultimately, her album should sound, right down to the smallest details.

"I'm very vocal about which musicians I want to use on each song," she says. "Or the harmony vocals, who you would get to sing each part. A lot of thought goes into that.

"I just try to do my job as the artist, and not necessarily step on the producer's toes," she adds. "But I do think that an artist is more than just a picture or a name on a record.

"Or should be."

Womack's take-charge attitude goes a long way toward explaining why "I Hope You Dance" is blessed with such a distinctive sound. Unlike a lot of artists, Womack doesn't follow a formula or work to ensure that her album sounds like everything else on the radio these days. Instead, Womack focused on the songs, and made sure each tune got exactly the treatment and attention it deserved.

"When I make music, it's from the standpoint of what's best for each song, right down to the players we use," she says. "It's really odd, because I always thought that everybody made records that way. But everyone does it differently. I found that out when I came to Nashville."

Since finishing her album, Womack and her backing band, 911, have been on the road as part of the George Strait tour -- or, as the posters put it, "Nokia Presents the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival." An all-day event playing to stadium-sized crowds, the 3-year-old festival is the biggest tour in country music.

Naturally, Womack is over the moon at having been invited back.

"I got to do it the first year, then was off the second year," she says. "It was overwhelming for me my first year, because that was the first year I was even on the road. And those huge venues with great production, and big cities with great hotels, and runners to take you anywhere you want -- it's just a totally different situation than me going out and playing my own dates in clubs or at fairs."

Playing a festival like this one does pose problems. For instance, because Womack is restricted to a 30-minute set, choosing songs can be tricky.

"I've been lucky enough to have a lot of Top 10 hits and several No. 1s, and I can't get them all in," she says. "And you want to play stuff from the new album, too.

"So it's difficult to try and get them all in, but it's also fun, because you get to do Hit, Hit, Hit, and then you're off the stage."

Womack also likes the fact that, when she's finished performing, there's still plenty for her to do. "When I'm out totally by myself, the only girl in the band, we'll do a show, and it's kind of late of night, and I come off the stage with that energy -- and it's silence. I'm totally by myself.

"But on this show, we have Martina [McBride], who has two girls. And Faith [Hill] is out a lot with Tim [McGraw, her husband], so they have their two girls along. So all the kids get to play with each other, and then we sit around and talk about things we have in common.

"It's been a really neat situation."

Country fest

What: Nokia Presents the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival, featuring George Strait, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Kenny Chesney, Mark Chestnutt, Lee Ann Womack, Asleep at the Wheel, Clay Davidson and Jerry Kilgore

When: Sunday, June 4, 11: 30 a.m. to 10: 10 p.m.

Where: FedEx Field, Landover Tickets: $39.50, $49.50, $59.50 Call: 410-481-6328

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