A lot has been said (and written) about the bro-country trend of late. It’s had a good run, to be sure, but trucks and beer and girls in too-short shorts can only get you so far. At some point, you need more than that. To borrow from Wade Bowen’s “Songs about Trucks”: “Whatever happened to a feeling bad song? Lost the best damn woman that you ever had song? It’s all four-wheel drives and jacked-up tires rollin’ out of them speakers. But for a trip down memory lane tonight I need something a little deeper.”
Whatever did happen to all those feeling bad songs that went a little deeper? Well, they are still there. To find them, you just have to flip to the other side of the country music coin — the women. Artists like Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe, and Kacey Musgraves are, indeed, writing some really good feeling bad songs, full of depth and resonance, consequence and soulfulness. And that’s where we find Lee Ann Womack with her newest release, The Way I’m Livin’. Like the records of Clark, Monroe, and Musgraves, “The Way I’m Livin’ is “not your kids’ country music,” Womack notes. “This is grown-up country music.”
Not surprisingly, the album’s title track feels like the natural heart of the set, in both style and substance. The cut tells the tale of a tortured soul, one that’s made a deal with the devil in the form of the bottle. Womack explains, “We hear so many songs about drinking — and we have for years in country music — but this is a song that’s not about, ‘Hey, let’s party. Let’s have a good time. Let’s drink.’ This is a song about, ‘I might have a problem here.'”
Womack’s producer and husband, Frank Liddell, admires her willingness to broach that very tenuous topic, and others, on the album. “The pain and the darkness of some of these songs is not negative,” Liddell says. “I see these themes as part of everybody’s life. She’s just addressing them, where a lot of artists won’t.” To support the twinge and twang of Womack’s sympathetic, but potent vocal testimony, Liddell lays the song down on a dirty, outlaw-style sonic bed that feels just urgent enough to demand attention.
By the last verse of the song, the singer is resolved, but not necessarily redeemed: “On the day I die, when they lay me down, I know where my soul is bound. And don’t you cry, and don’t you weep ’cause it’s too late to rescue me. If you see the devil coming your way, get down on your knees and start to pray.”
Womack understands the challenge inherent in the song because she has seen it in the everyday lives and struggles of those around her. She says, “The juxtaposition between the sin and the redemption… When you grow up in a small town in east Texas, it’s like Saturday night and Sunday morning. That’s the way people live. I mean, that is it.”