Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone is really good country. Not country rock, rap, or pop; there are no daisy dukes, hot-100 hooks, or Nelly features. Country. It’s steel slides, struggle, and faith.
All the Trouble is about waving a white flag from atop your mountain. It casts surviving the struggle of making it up that mountain as inverted accomplishment: You’re spent and the energy can’t be recovered.
With “It started with a dark cloud and a couple drops of rain,” it’s also about underestimating omens—about not thinking it’d get so hard so fast. That inability to see things for what they’ll become is captured by “It’s hard being little; it’s hard being small.” Our smallness comforts us, but also leaves us vulnerable to larger forces. “The trouble with the mountain: There’s 8 million ways to fall.”
The title track is about the romanticization of the death of romance. That idea also plays via Lee Ann rueing the loss of country music (“There’s a place down by the mall, but it ain’t what you’d call a honky tonk”). She attaches vivid sentiments to both: “No one sings about... half-priced wings and trying to wish back everything they lost.”
There’s a Bonnie Raitt vibe all over the cover of Patsy Cline’s He Called Me Baby. And like with many of this album’s songs, there’s a sadness not just in the immediate feeling, but between the lines, in the prefaces Lee Ann didn’t write.
“I lie here, and I die here, until the dawn” is lonely in its own moment. It suggests that every morning she acts like the night wasn’t empty, that what she presents in the light of day is pretend. But the “all night long” anchor suggests his affection was always temporary, that he was always gone by dawn, that he never called her baby in sunshine.
Hollywood has intricate notes about the downfall of a society made for two. It’s about how the power of that belonging reshapes our identity. Doubting the bond can so easily mean doubting yourself (“Either I’m a fool for asking or...”).
It’s so easy to make someone feel like a fool. It’s the barely noticeable mistakes that reveal and hurt the most. There’s the weight of falling into negligent rhythm and yet the ease with which you can ignore how that became pattern.
Can’t help but doubt the hoped-for longevity in The End of the End of the World. She has no idea where he’s been (“My baby’s back from wherever”), or can’t bring herself to say. She’s placed too much on his return, as if he could be alpha and omega.
Before sliding into a Brent Cobb cover, Lee Ann extends an invitation to join her at the Bottom of the Barrel. It’s a plea for sympathetic souls to let go, particularly via some vices (where “the livin’ comes cheap”). It also feels like a meta invitation to sink into this album.
But then Shine on Rainy Day sets in: a dreary ode to dreary odes. It’s the country version of the lure of wrapping yourself in sadness because of the contrast it yields for fleeting happiness (“Laughin’ ain’t a pleasure til you know ‘bout cryin’“).
Mama Lost Her Smile is heartbreaking. Lee Ann tries to measure what it cost a woman to put family before herself. That measure is the erasure of the pictures we take. Our reluctance to capture the moments in which we aren’t happy has unintended effects. It leaves those who’ve loved us with questions we’d hope they’d never have to ask, like whether we were ever really happy.
Long Black Veil is a ghost story told by the ghost of man who died rather than admit to an affair with his best friend’s wife. But what I don’t know is what was worth dying for. Is he preserving their love, their good names, his friend’s heart? His lover’s left behind, haunted by losing him, but since there’s never an explicit expression of his love for her, maybe the saddest thing is that she’s unknowingly haunted by unrequited love.
An upright bass appears a lot on this record, but its best feature is probably on Someone Else’s Heartache. In it, she concedes she’s not really over him (“The things I say to just get by”). It all adds up to the likelihood that this song is much more about her own heartache than anyone else’s.
I love the idea of calling on god to explain why no one’s around to hear your prayers. Sunday is part demand that god explain itself, but also an insistence that god explain the world around us. I understand religion as exactly this: a means of approaching an understanding of how you fit in a context whose scale you’ll never fathom.
That line works for Talking Behind Your Back, though it’s wild that she chooses to confide in her person’s ex. It works for Wicked and the compulsion of “Something had to happen; something had to be done. And it turns out I’m pretty good with a gun.” And it works for Take the Devil Out of Me: a Hail Mary if there ever were one, and a neat close to an album about ache.
October 27, 2017
Adam Wright • Andrew Combs • Brent Cobb • Dale Dodson • Danny Dill • Danny Flowers • Dean Dillon • George Jones • Harlan Howard • Jason Saenz • Jay Knowles • Lee Ann Womack • Marijohn Wilkin • Waylon Malloy Payne