eliza berkon is a features writer and jazz musician based in washington d.c. 

Lee Ann Womack on Texas, steel guitars and Taylor Swift wannabes

Nearly 20 years ago, Lee Ann Womack’s crossover hit “I Hope You Dance” propelled her beyond country stardom. The ballad—a Billboard Hot 100 track, Grammy winner for Best Country Song and nominee for Song of the Year in 2001—was a departure for Womack, who’d begun her career with a traditional country sound. On 2017’s The Lonely, the Lonesome and the Gone, the fearless musician explores life’s struggles with wisdom and candor on gritty and unmistakably country terrain. On March 23, her All the Trouble tour arrives at the Birchmere.

A lot of interesting things are happening on this album in terms of production, yet your vocals never sound overproduced. Tell us what you were going for.

I was just singing and the engineer and producers were catching it. I don’t really put a lot of thought into what I’m doing because, to me, it needs to come from within. And when you’re thinking too much, so much of the time you’re thinking about things that have happened before. I don’t want to do that; I want things to be born and that’s what I wanted with this record.

And you chose a recording location not far from where you grew up?

Right. When I was growing up in east Texas, I knew the whole time I wanted to go be a country singer, and it was the most exciting time in my whole life. There’s nothing better than the dream. It felt good and exciting and electric and alive, and then you get in the business and you start getting jaded, and you get older and life happens. I wanted to feel like I did when I was growing up and feel like I had everything ahead of me. Every time I go back there, I feel that way again.

What do you think of country artists who produce pop records, or have crossed over to pop, like Taylor Swift? Is it good for the genre?

What’s good for the genre is for people to be creative, do new things. But what’s best is to be great, to make great music and I don’t hear a lot of that. I think Taylor is extremely talented, but a Taylor only comes along every once in a while and then you have a hundred Taylor wannabes. As far as the style of the music goes, I do miss fiddles and steel guitar for sure. The only thing I’m unhappy about is if there’s no room for them anymore. Everything that’s country’s sort of being pushed out.

What would you tell a new artist who’s trying to figure out just who she is as a performer?

If she doesn’t know, then there’s nothing I can tell her. That stuff should come from within.

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