Following the success of There’s More Where That Came From, Womack released the single “Finding My Way Back Home” in August 2006. A return to the poppier sounds she favored on I Hope You Dance, the song failed to rekindle her radio career and an album of the same name was shelved.
Her next full-length album Call Me Crazy finally saw the light of day in the fall of 2008. Upon release critics hailed the album as one of the year’s best and praised Womack for continuing to explore her roots and show that women don’t have to rely on singing feel-good songs all the time.
Lead single “Last Call,” which peaked at an impressive #14, finds a woman unwilling to pick up her drunken ex from a bar. Written by Erin Enderlin and Shane McAnally, the song succeeds brilliantly on its moody production that perfectly echoes the middle of the night feel of his phone call. But it’s Womack’s confident and commanding vocal that brings the song to new heights. She clearly holds all the cards in this relationship and she wisely chooses not to fall back into her ex’s pathetic trap.
The second and final single, “Solitary Thinkin’” may have peaked in the low 30s but the lack of radio airplay was more a sign of the times than a reflection of quality. Written by Waylon Payne, the smoky torch ballad is the best song Womack has ever recorded. I love the slinky and seductive nature of the production such as the drumbeat that draws the listener in, and Womack’s vocal, which builds from a whisper to nearly a scream by the end. There isn’t a wasted note or breath in the whole recording.
The rest of the album is ripe with moments that match, if not succeed, the quality of the two singles. Womack spends much of Call Me Crazy reflecting on the darker side of human relationships. With “Either Way” she tells the story of a couple unwilling to end their loveless relationship that succeeds on its lush imagery allowing the listener to fully grasp the pain felt by the couple.
“Have You Seen That Girl” develops that physical suffering a step further by reflecting on the inner turmoil felt by women who feel their choices in life have compromised their spirit. Co-written by Womack with Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson, it’s the most relatable song on the whole album and a testament to the power of tapping into human experience:
She was full of life
Looked on the brighter side
If it was worth a chance she’d take it
Said that life is what you make it
But a few wrong moves led to a few wrong turns
And once you’re burned you’re not the same
You tend to shy from the flame
I hate to think shes givin up her dream
Another such testament to human experience, “The Bees,” written by Natalie Hembly and Daniel Tashian, is the most sonically interesting song in the bunch but also the darkest. You have to peel back the layers to find the a tale of a motherless child trying to cope in a world where she’s only known the stinging effects of her father’s beatings. I love the haunting drumbeat throughout and the gravel of Keith Urban’s harmony vocal, which adds another dimension to the recording. From the beginning it’s been my favorite song on the album and one I wish had seen the light of day as a single.
Much like “Either Way,” Womack explores love lost on “Everything But Quits” which she co-wrote with Dillon and Dodson. A rare duet with George Strait, it’s a delightful honky-tonk weeper that beckons back to a time long since forgotten by mainstream Nashville. She continues in this vein on “King of Broken Hearts” an actual cover of a Strait song from the soundtrack to Pure Country. Proving why she’s one of Nashville’s most astute vocalists, she brings the country charm on this song with full effect.
Unfortunately, Call Me Crazy isn’t without some weaker moments. Womack and Dillon teamed up with Casey Beathard to write “New Again” a tale about nurturing the beaten down and looking for the beauty within. It’s a subtle throwback to the inspirational songs that garnered her huge success only the message isn’t as clear. The metaphor of the Goodwill dress is sweet, but I find it a bit distracting to the overall message of the song.
Consequently, the other clunker in the bunch is “I Think I Know” which tries to explain the deaths of country legends Keith Whitley and Johnny Cash. Like “New Again,” I have a hard time deciphering the message here. It isn’t clear what she thinks killed them or at least I can’t pull it out of the lyrics. I’m also not a big fan of songs that resurrect deceased members of the country music community and try, in vein, to explain what happened to them.
And I can see where people could fault “I Found It In You” for being over produced and lyrically unintelligent, but I always connected with the energy of the track written by Brian Nash, Michael T. Post, and Whitney Duncan and enjoy the mandolin featured prominently throughout. But it is louder than it should’ve been.
What makes Call Me Crazy an outstanding mainstream country album (and my tenth favorite album of the last decade), is Womack’s ability to mix both traditional and contemporary sounds without sacrificing her mission to be a torchbearer for traditional country music. She continues to explore her writing abilities and the songs she co-wrote are among the strongest on the whole album.
But what I appreciate about Call Me Crazy is the fact it’s an album for those who love and value music and not just another vein attempt at commercial profit. Womack has taken the time to gather an exceptional set of songs and she’s finally exploring the breadth of her artistic abilities. With a new album planned for 2012, I cannot wait to see where she goes from here.
Call Me Crazy is essential listening for any country fan and widely available from both iTunes and Amazon.