Like her contemporary Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack followed up a neotraditional debut with a sophomore effort which was a little more in tune with contemporary tastes, but still recognizably country. The song quality is high, mainly down-tempo and focussing on failed relationships. Mark Wright produced again, but his work is less sympathetic this time around, leaning a little more contemporary than the neotraditionalism of her debut and too often smothered with string arrangements to sweeten the pill for radio.
‘A Little Past Little Rock’ is a great song about a woman who has left a desperate relationship in Dallas. Struggling to cope as she gets “A little past Little Rock, but a long way from over you”, Lee Ann delivers a fine vocal, but the track is somewhat weighed down by the swelling strings. Lee Ann’s ex-husband Jason Sellers is among the backing singers. Written by Tony Lane, Jess Brown and Brett Jones, it was the album’s first single and peaked at #2.
This performance was matched by a rare venture by the artist into comedy material which is one of my favourite LAW singles, written by Tony Martin and Tim Nichols. With tongue-in-cheek malice the protagonist vents her hatred of her successful romantic rival with the words ‘I’ll Think Of A Reason Later’ as
It may be my family’s redneck nature
Bringing out unladylike behavior
It sure ain’t Christian to judge a stranger
But I don’t like her
She maybe an angel who spends all winter
Bringing the homeless blankets and dinner
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner
But I really hate her
I’ll think of a reason later
The third single ‘(Now You See Me) Now You Don’t’ written by Tony Lane, David Lee and Jess Brown, picks up the tempo and attitude, but just failed to make the top 10. While it is enjoyable listening and comes across like a prequel to ‘A Little Past Little Rock’ before the regrets of that song kicked in, it isn’t particularly memorable.
The rather AC title track is the record’s one positive love song, written by Burton Collins and Sally Barris. A fairly ordinary lyric is lifted by a lovely melody, an exquisite vocal backed up by Vince Gill, and a subtle string arrangement which is not as intrusive as others on the album. Gill also sings harmony on the regretful post-breakup ‘I Keep Forgetting’, written by Jamie O’Hara, which is a better song and I like much more. On the same theme of denial, the perfectly understated despair of ‘Don’t Tell Me’ features its writers Buddy and Julie Miller on harmony.
The rueful Bobby Braddock song ‘I’d Rather Have What We Had’ was cut by John Conlee in the 1980s, and is about a former cheater now settled in domestic boredom with her former illicit lover. I always liked the original, but Lee Ann’s excellent version is even better. Not only is it one of the most traditional country songs on the album with prominent steel from Paul Franklin and Joe Diffie on distinctive harmony vocals, it is the highlight:
Which one would you rather have?
Dying to be with me
Or watching TV with me
Is this what we wanted so bad?
I’d rather have what we had
Lee Ann contributed to writing the bitter ‘The Man That Made My Mama Cry’, with the help of Dale Dodson and Billy Lawson. She rejects the father absent through her childhood who has suddenly shown up after the mother’s death:
Someone who broke a lot of promises in his time
All I know about you is how to live without you
I can see I have your eyes
But all you’ve ever been
Is the man that made my mama cry
It is a pure country song at heart, structurally and emotionally, but is another of the tracks to suffer from excessive use of strings. Lee Ann’s vocal is delicately vulnerable as she remembers her mother weeping after the couple’s phone conversations, and polite but firm when she shoots him down:
You’ve got a lot of nerve to think
You can walk right in and take her place
She also wrote ‘If You’re Ever Down In Dallas’ with her ex-husband Sellers. Although the tune is upbeat, once again we have a couple who have separated, with the woman who has left regretting it now her ex has found new love, and suggesting if that all falls apart she will be there to offer a helping hand.
‘When The Wheels Are Coming Off’ is another highlight, written by Wynn Varble, Randy Hardison, and Leslie Satcher. Lee Ann delivers a lovely vocal on a last-ditch appeal to work on a relationship about to hit the rocks, supported by backing vocalists including Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White:
What isn’t taken care of falls apart
Now we’ve got a pair of neglected broken hearts
We make it another mile or two before somebody walks
Even I can tell when the wheels are coming off…
When it comes down to what makes love work, I’ll admit I’m lost
But even I can tell when the wheels are coming off
‘The Preacher Won’t Have To Lie’ (written by Billy Montana and Steve Dean) ends the record on a spiritual note, with Lee Ann resolving to live in a way her funeral eulogy can support.
The vocals are stellar even on the lesser songs, and Lee Ann shows that her interpretative ability is outstanding. Some of the production is misguided, but overall this is still a fine record. It’s also easy to find cheaply.