Country singer Womack keeps it real in Nashville


Who: Lee Ann Womack opening for George Strait and Reba McEntire

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, One Center Court, Cleveland

Tickets: $39.50 to $89.50;

call 888-894-9424, or visit

By John Benson

Swimming against the current by choice, country singer Lee Ann Womack is still going strong nearly 15 years after she arrived on the Music City scene.

Even though the climate in Nashville has changed of late, the Grammy Award-winning artist, who has sold more than 6 million albums and scored a No. 1 hit with “I Hope You Dance,” has her fingers crossed its for the better.

“I came along during the boom, and I’ve watched this town and the business end of this shrink, especially drastically over the last couple of years,” said Womack, calling from Nashville. “I’m hoping that helps the music. There are a lot of people who came here to make money. There are a few people here who came here to make music. Maybe the ones who are here to make money will keep leaving, and we’ll be left with musicians.”

Among those musicians left in the city are presumably George Strait and Reba McEntire, with whom Womack is going on the road this winter as a supporting act.

Granted, an artist of Womack’s stature — she’s known for top-10 hits such as “The Fool,” “A Little Past Little Rock,” “I’ll Think of a Reason Later” and “Ashes by Now” — rarely is an opener these days, but she admitted there was something special about the offer to open up for the country-music legends’ tour, which began last year and finally rolls into Cleveland on Friday at Quicken Loans Arena.

“For the audience, they’ll never have another opportunity to hear that many No. 1 hits in a night,” Womack said. “It’s amazing, and it’ll never be repeated. This show is really one of a kind. Where else can you get three artists like that? I don’t have near the amount of hits they had, but for my 30-minute set, it’s full of them. So you get hits from the time the first artist hits the stage to the end. And not only that, these are three of the best bands I have ever seen in commercial country music. It’s amazing. So it’s just great music, real singers singing live. This is something you just don’t get to see anymore, unfortunately.”

Invariably, telling it like it is remains Womack’s strong suit. Never one to play the Nash- Vegas celebrity game, the 44-year-old Texas native appears to be as real as they come. Take for instance her mind-set regarding the release of her next studio effort, which will be a follow-up to 2008’s “Call Me Crazy.” Already hard at work on the next album, Womack said she plans on recording a variety of different genres — within reason — that showcase her vocal talents. She’s already brought in alt-country’s Jamey Johnson to cut some lyrics.

What makes Womack unique for Nashville is the fact she takes her time between album releases. If her new album comes out in 2011, that means it would have been three years between projects. For a less-confident artist, 36 months is a lifetime. For Womack, three years is just right.

“I’m not sure I have enough to say every year to put an album out,” Womack said. “And if I’m forgotten, I’m forgotten. I guess I wasn’t making that good of music anyway. I personally think more people need to take longer making their records. It’s a formula how things are done in Nashville, usually, but I’m just not one to jump in the flow and be carried along.”

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