Album Review – Lee Ann Womack’s “The Lonely, The Lonesome & the Gone”
It’s funny. You mention Lee Ann Womack to certain segments of traditional country music fans, and you’re liable to get a sideways glance, or downright gruff. Little do they know the leadership Lee Ann has exhibited over the last decade plus in keeping the roots of country music alive.
To a large swath of country music people, their point of reference for Lee Ann is her smash #1 hit from 2000, “I Hope You Dance.” The song was so big, and her mainstream success was so hit or miss afterwards—which then lead to a period where she downright disappeared—you really can’t blame those people for not knowing what a powerhouse of true country Lee Ann Womack has become, including when she was still on a major label. And though it is distinctly country pop, the simple truth is “I Hope You Dance” is an incredibly good song. Timeless. In fact it might be one of the best ever in the entirety of the country music canon.
But Lee Ann Womack didn’t write it. Nor did she write any of the material on her last record The Way I’m Livin'”, or much of the material throughout her career. We give credit to some performers for being great songwriters for themselves, but there is a distinct skill in being a good song picker too. Sure, it’s probably not as demanding as writing good songs, or is it? Knowing a good song when you hear one, not just from your own personal tastes, but something that will resonate with listeners, and something that you can sing well and that fits your style, and something your audience wants or expects from you, is often the skill that separates the good artists from the great ones, even the ones who write their own material, but still must choose what to record.
Lee Ann Womack recorded a song from Chris Stapleton way back in 2005. She was an early supporter of Bruce Robison. While the rest of the country world seemed unaware, Lee Ann Womack recognized the songwriting skill of Waylon Payne. Even Brent Cobb was put on many people’s radar way before he became a solo performer from writing songs for Lee Ann. Odie Blackmon, Jim Lauderdale, and Brennen Leigh are some other names who’ve benefited from Womack’s songwriting credits. Like George Strait and others, Lee Ann can sing a country song better than most, but it’s selecting them that separates her from the crowd.
Lee Ann Womack’s latest album The Lonely, The Lonesome, & the Gone has more co-writes from Womack than any other album she’s ever released, arguably making it her most personal. It also feels like the spreading of wings a bit in the stylistic approach. But moreover it is Lee Ann doing what has made her a favorite among many, which is finding the songs that somehow have sifted through the fingers of the rest of Music Row with its skewed priorities, and singing the bejesus out of them with a voice that has been raised to the level of the iconic from how many recordings its graced that have gone on to become the definitive version of a composition.
The Lonely, The Lonesome, & the Gone starts off a little strange stylistically, almost like it’s trying to stretch Lee Ann into the realm of this Muscle Shoals revival that east Nashville and Americana has been obsessed over for the last few years. Kudos for keeping things spicy and relevant, but sometimes it feels like producer and Lee Ann’s significant other Frank Liddell tends to get a little too cute, trying to put his own stamp on Lee Ann’s sound as opposed to finding its true, natural style.
The album starts off with a song called “All The Trouble” that tries to set a dark mood, but ultimately doesn’t say very much. The title track, “The Lonely, The Lonesome, & the Gone” could have been a really heavy hitting classic country tearjerker, but the steel guitar is buried in the mix for some reason, and the style seems too contemporary for the songwriting. The fuzzy, dream pop guitar tone on “Shine On Rainy Day” may be appropriate for some, but not for Lee Ann. She shouldn’t try to compete with the east Nashville retro hipsters. She’s better than them, and should be informing their sound instead of attempting to follow it.
But this record finds its footing in the middle portions, to the point where any disagreements you may have with the production team become forgivable. “End of the End of the World” solo written by Adam Wright is one of those songs that would have put people in the Hall of Fame if it was written 50 years ago. The playful, swaying beat of “Bottom Of The Barrel” by Brent Cobb and Jason Saenz gives the record its most appetizing and infectious moment. The three primary songwriters on this record—Womack, Waylon Payne, and Adam Wright—team together on “Mama Lost Her Smile” and the heartbreaking “Sunday,” and the results are pure magic.
You may ask yourself why we need yet another version of “Long Black Veil,” but Womack proves why. As iterated above, Lee Ann has a way of putting a definitive stamp on whatever she chooses to sing, not just because of her natural talents, but from knowing what she can clobber out of the park while standing in front of a mic, sometimes with sheer power like she did with the ultra-contemporary “I Hope You Dance,” or in the case of “Long Black Veil,” with hushed tones taken to one of the oldest and most revered compositions in country music history.
There’s a reason why Miranda Lambert—who shares many of the same songwriters and the same producer as Lee Ann—decided she needed to release two discs instead of one for her last album. During an era in country music when some of the best songs are being overlooked by Music Row, and it seems like a severe risk that this material maybe be resigned to demo tapes and legal pads for eternity, Lee Ann Womack is stepping up to give these songs breath and life, and contributing her own words more than ever, benefiting from the rest of country music’s shortsightedness. The rest of us benefit too when a record like The Lonely, The Lonesome, & the Gone gets pressed.
1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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October 27, 2017 @ 10:00 am
Awesome. I love that she recorded this in Texas. She’s one one of my favorites.
tom tordel jr
October 27, 2017 @ 2:29 pm
“texas” , instead of ? nashville? then i get it
October 27, 2017 @ 3:01 pm
Yes. This is the first one she’s recorded in Texas in a long time according to her interview at AmericanaFest.
October 27, 2017 @ 10:32 am
Best female country vocalist today… I don’t know if isecond place is even that close
October 27, 2017 @ 10:44 am
All The Trouble was the first one off this I heard ahead of release, so I cautioned myself with expectations, but the album is better than I expected it to be. That’ll learn me to base expectations for an entire album off a single release. I enjoy her cut of Long Black Veil, but nobody alive can sing that one better than Daryle Singletary. Kudos to Lee Ann on another great record, even if there isn’t another “Hate Myself In The Morning” on here.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:12 pm
I feel very similar about this album as I did the latest Ray Wylie Hubbard. It’s almost like they chose one of the worst songs to put out front, and one that doesn’t even represent the rest of the record well, tempering expectations, and setting the table for folks to be disappointed in it. As Kent and Kevin Davis say below, it makes you think this is going to be a bluesy, dark record, which it is in parts, but there’s also some great country stuff here too.
October 29, 2017 @ 5:25 am
She has also recorded songs penned by Chris Knight and Hayes Carll. You nailed it when you said she’s a great song picker.
Frank the Tank
November 8, 2017 @ 9:28 pm
I love the fact that “Long Black Veil” is a song that is covered so often since it is a) so good and b) always done differently (at least the versions that I have heard). I like her version a lot, but I agree that Daryle Singletary’s version is probably my favourite.
October 27, 2017 @ 10:49 am
“Bottom of the Barrel” and “Mama Lost Her Smile” (as well as the “He Called Me Baby” cover) were my favorite tracks — I loved Lee Ann’s last album and I’ll definitely be picking this one up. 🙂
October 30, 2017 @ 8:05 pm
Mama Lost Her Smile an early favorite of mine.
Does Hollywood kind of remind you of a Dusty Springfield song?
Overall, very happy abut the new album. It gets better with each listen.
October 27, 2017 @ 11:13 am
I was listening to the preview of this album yesterday. And one things is sure I would not like to be a music critic. The singing is flawless she has damn good voice. The musicians playes flawlessely. So 10/10?…
But I wouldn’t buy this album Because to me the production makes almost every song sound cold and desolate but that’s of course a very subjectiv judgement and really not fair. So I think you have damn difficult job I mean sometimes you also have to do some kind of compromize between how you feel about the music emotionally and an objectiv assessment of the quality of the music then you give it a rating.
I’m usually such a coward so if I don’t have anything nice to say then I don’t say anything…
October 27, 2017 @ 11:48 am
“the production makes almost every song sound cold and desolate”
That was my impression, especially on roughly half of the songs. It’s definitely a “blues country” album as she has described it, but I could use more of something that I can’t put my finger on. I love Lee Ann, and I love how this album reflects her artistry as a 51-year-old woman. Trigger highlighted the best songs, but as a whole I’m not sure how this album will sit with me over time. Maybe I’ll come to appreciate it more.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:05 pm
well i hope you can sit well with it, bud. i hope you can come to appreciate world class musicians live-backing an other- worldly vocal performance. In spite of the “desolation”.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:15 pm
I wouldn’t say the production is cold and desolate on almost every song, but it is on the first song, and the song that was released first from this record, which is the song that is meant to represent the album to the public so I understand the sentiment.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:27 pm
it was different and dark at times, i get the opinion. i just thought the contrast between the dark, almost improvised musicianship and her absurd vocal ability was really striking. on all the songs. I won’t be humming them to myself during the day like i do with john prine songs. no. but as a piece, i thought it was unbelievable.
October 27, 2017 @ 11:16 am
“I Hope You Dance” was horrible then, and it’s horrible now. Are you trying to troll everybody by saying it’s one of the best ever?
I remember being every bit as bitter and disgusted about “I Hope You Dance”, as all you neophyte Country fans are about everything Sam Hunt does.
Having said that, when Lee Ann sings Country, she’s great.
October 27, 2017 @ 4:33 pm
I remember being every bit as bitter and disgusted about “I Hope You Dance”, as all you neophyte Country fans are about everything Sam Hunt does.
It wasn’t quite on that level for me, but as I’ve said before, the absolute worst thing about that song was that it was a very poor representation of what Lee Ann Womack is about as an artist. It wasn’t even a good representation of the album whose title it shares. I remember, after I heard that album, wondering what the pop fans who bought it for the title track thought of songs like “Lonely Too” and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.”
October 27, 2017 @ 10:44 pm
“I Hope You Dance” is an excellent song, and I’ll puff my chest out and challenge anyone who says otherwise. Is it country? Of course not. But talk to any mother or daughter who was around in 2000, and they’ll tell you that song changed their lives. It may not be right for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good song.
October 28, 2017 @ 7:38 am
Oh, it’s a fine song and all; I just wish it had been done by someone else.
October 28, 2017 @ 8:09 am
I’m with Trig- one of the best country songs of the new millennium-
Not every country song has to be hardcore traditional in order to be great, people
October 28, 2017 @ 10:20 am
It’s a miserably horrible, dollar chasing song, which contributed to the further demise of Country Music.
No amount of internet bravado or unwarranted chest puffing will change that.
Who cares what mothers and daughters think? Right now they’re all clamouring to tag team Thomas Rhett.
October 29, 2017 @ 6:46 am
“Who cares what mothers and daughters think?”
Every mother, every daughter, any man with a shred of integrity. I believe you are in the minority, although I will admit that your bracket has run this world for far too long. But I believe your time is almost up, hence the desperation coming through in almost every comment you make.
May 28, 2018 @ 4:33 am
What a horribly sexist, shitty comment.
November 1, 2017 @ 5:57 am
I love I Hope You Dance. It is a very special song to me. I am currently in the process of saving my money in order to get an “I Hope You Dance”-inspired tattoo, like I’ve wanted for quite a while. I’m also a bit of a Lee Ann Womack superfan (and an aspiring singer who counts her as one of my biggest inspirations). It’s also absolutely excellent. However, I am probably more tolerant of pop country than many who visit the site. I love well-done, well-written pop country as well as traditional country.
October 27, 2017 @ 11:23 am
Maybe my ears just don’t work right, but to me this woman is the greatest living country singer. And I typically listen to guys more than gals. But to me she is #1 as a singer, and there isn’t a super close 2nd, male or female. Song choices were good, musicians were super good, and the singer is unassailable. This is a no-brainer to me.
October 27, 2017 @ 5:43 pm
Tricia Yearwood is on the same level
October 27, 2017 @ 7:14 pm
don’t agree, but boy yearwood is super good.
October 27, 2017 @ 7:35 pm
Yeah Trish is damn good.
I’d say, in the last say 20 or so years in the mainstream Lee Ann Womack, Trisha, and freaking Pam Tillis (this gal can HONKY TONK!) for me are the top three in terms of singing and song choices. I like Reba but she’s a little too much of a belter for my tastes I prefer some restraint.
October 27, 2017 @ 8:14 pm
October 27, 2017 @ 11:23 am
Holy cow, this is great music.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:00 pm
I love her. She is fantastic. I’ll definitely have to check this out. In my opinion, the only contemporary female country singer (while there are many great ones) that even comes close to Lee Ann Womack is Ashley Monroe, who reminds me a lot of Lee Ann. (Am I the only one who sees the similarites? Just wondering.)
October 27, 2017 @ 12:36 pm
Yes I agree, not only because of the voice but the style of Ashley’s songs reminds me of Lee Ann (and maybe that’s why I love both)
October 27, 2017 @ 12:54 pm
Yeah, you’re definitely right. There are strong similarities between Lee Ann and Ashley, vocal-wise.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:23 pm
Her “More Where That Came From” album is a classic!
October 27, 2017 @ 10:59 pm
True. Hardcore country album, one of my top 10 favorites ever.
October 27, 2017 @ 12:34 pm
I am obsessed with Lee Ann since “The Way I’m Livin'”. Back then I didn’t listen to her songs that much, basically, because I never liked I Hope Your Dance and older famous singles. But since that album I think she improved so much, especially right now where singers that had some many hits in the 90s are releasing so many bad things nowadays (and maybe it’s the industry to blame that they need to get in shape to sell more, like Shania’s recent album), but with Lee Ann I think it happened the opposite. And this new album it’s not different to me, she sounds as good as she did in 2014 when I really became a fan and I honestly liked this new album, especially these blues/country songs like Hollywood and He Called Me Baby.
October 27, 2017 @ 2:57 pm
The reason she’s recording better material is because she’s finally free of her big record label contract. In interviews she said that, while she loved and is proud of all of her music, she was very aware of what the label wanted from her – i.e. commercial country pop like “I Hope You Dance”. She stood her ground and was able to record songs that were more country than most at that time but she was still constrained in a way. Now that she’s with an independent label, she said she feels like she can finally make the albums she’s always wanted to make – the americana/country/blues music of her last two releases.
October 28, 2017 @ 1:19 am
funny isabella ……i can’t get enough of lee ann’s older stuff ….the songwriting was the best around …wonderfully crafted and melodic with lots of steel and tradition and CLEVER lyrically…and it all holds up .
i like her newer stuff too ( although i have yet to hear this latest ) but mostly the newer stuff holds up because of her incredible talent and not the songs / melodies /arrangements , in my humble opinion . like so many artists she seems hard-pressed to fit in at this stage and harder pressed to find timeless yet accessible material . again ….i have yet to hear her latest ….hope its a different story song-wise .
October 27, 2017 @ 12:42 pm
Great singer. Her husband produces Miranda Lambert’s records.
October 27, 2017 @ 1:39 pm
Really would have preferred “Shine On Rainy Day” to stay exclusively with Brent Cobb. Any reason he would let her cut his title track other than for the royalties?
October 27, 2017 @ 3:18 pm
To me, the two versions are completely different songs almost. Can’t speak on the reasoning, but I’m glad to have two separate versions. Cobb did great, and I think it might be the best track on this record. Back in the day, you would see the same song cut by three or four artists in Nashville in the same year, sometimes with multiple version competing on the charts. That was probably a better day.
October 27, 2017 @ 10:41 pm
Actually, let me completely edit that. For some reason I had “Bottom of the Barrel” in my head when I made this comment for some reason. Lee Ann’s “Shine on a Rainy Day” is one of the weaker tracks on this record in my opinion, with poor production specifically. Good song, but I agree, no need for two versions here.
October 28, 2017 @ 6:46 am
Except it never was exclusively Cobb’s song. Andrew Combs had a co-write and released a version of it as “Rainy Day Song” too, so it’s been covered three times and preformed three different ways.
It’s a good lyric so that’s why she (and anyone) covers a song.
The first single from this is similar in approach to “Vice” from Miranda’s last album.
Red vinyl version of this album available on Pledgemusic.
October 27, 2017 @ 9:57 pm
Paul Anka wrote “My Way” specifically for Sinatra, then Elvis covered it. People do covers because they love the song
October 31, 2017 @ 10:40 am
Actually – I saw Paul Anka interviewed where he stated that he had wrote “My Way” for himself, but then played it for Sinatra who wanted to record it. Anka said no, he wanted to record it. A day or two later, he said Sinatra called him from the recording studio and played him his recording of “My Way” that he had just recorded so Anka gave in. That being said, however, yes – people cover each other’s songs all the time.
October 27, 2017 @ 2:46 pm
(Un)-popular opinion: i love “All The Trouble”. A song like a “film noir”. Cold, dark & desperate.
It’s the kind of album you can’t record when you are under contract with one of the Nashville industy labels. Not in 2017.
October 27, 2017 @ 4:32 pm
I really like that song, too — if anything, I get a vibe similar to the title track from ‘The Way I’m Livin’.’
October 27, 2017 @ 3:07 pm
It’s hard to hate the new Lee Ann. It’s like ever since 2005 she’s been recording great music.
Trigger would you consider this country or Americana, sometimes I get confused distinguishing the two thanks
October 27, 2017 @ 3:15 pm
I would say this is a country album, but the direction Frank Liddell took some of the songs definitely leans Americana in how they’re more bluesy or Muscle Shoals sounding. It’s a very diverse album.
October 27, 2017 @ 5:19 pm
country is so great, and so worth saving, because it is soul music. She is soul. as is sturgill. as is stapleton when he blows it out. As is Jones. She is soul. She is Jones.
October 27, 2017 @ 4:32 pm
Womack may very well be my favorite current female country vocalist right now. She’s not necessarily my favorite artist,(not even close) but her voice is just phenomenal. The songs I’ve heard from this record sound great so far, and goddamn, how catchy is Bottom of the Barrel?
October 27, 2017 @ 7:01 pm
I’m a Womack fan. Will never forget her performance at Knuckleheads in KC with the train rolling by, blaring its horn 30 yards from the stage. She’s a good human, took it in stride 😁.
October 27, 2017 @ 7:16 pm
“and singing the bejesus out of them with a voice that has been raised to the level of the iconic from how many recordings its graced that have gone on to become the definitive version of a composition.”
I laughed at this line. It is true but is has to be added she does not belt or caterwaul or scream the notes. She has restraint and knows who to phrase a damn lyric. She isn’t trying to prove she can hold a note longer or do more runs than Patti Labelle singing on a Sunday like most young singers.
And I came late to her game but Goddam I LOVE this woman.
October 27, 2017 @ 7:21 pm
Good lord just heard her take on Long Black Veil. I’ve heard plenty of version from The Band, to Rosanne, to Johnny, to Gillian Welch and dang if this isn’t up there with the best.
October 27, 2017 @ 7:37 pm
I recently saw Caroline Spence tweet that she is obsessed with Womack’s new album. So that, in combination with your review, has made me very curious. I’m definitely going to listen to it. I love Womack and have ever since “I Hope You Dance.” It feels like she’s been under the radar all these years, making great and lasting music.
October 27, 2017 @ 9:50 pm
Lee Ann is the best female in country music, hands down, bar none, etc. She did pop country the right way many years ago, and has done stone cold country the right way ever since. Whether or not she writes the song she is singing, you’re guaran-goddamn-teed to feel it.
October 28, 2017 @ 6:19 am
9 albums in 20 years, take her time does it right. A country goddess.
October 28, 2017 @ 9:22 am
Love her and this album. I don’t think she’s going to set the sales charts on fire but I hope she does well enough to keep getting support to make more music. Probably my favorite female vocalist.
October 28, 2017 @ 3:05 pm
I’ve been a big fan of Lee Ann from the very beginning of her career but I’m a bit disappointed in this one.
October 30, 2017 @ 8:45 am
Love what I’ve heard so far from that album, it sounds damn fine! Nothing to do with the (great) music but I wonder if she’s gonna get some stick for the smokie cover picture?
October 30, 2017 @ 8:54 am
Yes, smoking is bad for you.
I’d like to think the cigarette pic is a reminder that adults are still free — even if, and when, they make bad choices.
October 30, 2017 @ 9:00 am
Its hard to quit smoking, but its really hard to start smoking.
October 30, 2017 @ 3:34 pm
OK….so I bought this on the weekend and I love Lee Ann . But I didn’t like the record ., except for 2-3 tracks . I was bored by the production and bored by the fact that her voice is better than the material she’s chosen to wrap it around here. WAY better …..
January 27, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
Not sure how I missed this in October. As usual, spot on. The songs were better live since the odd production tone in some of the album versions were gone. Mama Lost Her Smile live is a showstopper.