Outlaw country, circa 2018: Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and … Lee Ann Womack?
Hell yes. “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone,” Womack’s ninth studio album — her first recorded in Houston, away from the commercial hubs of Nashville and L.A. — is groovy, funky, sexy, mournful and downright moving, filled with story songs, rootsy bangers and reflections of her East Texas upbringing.
Womack’s All The Trouble Tour arrives at Infinity Hall in Hartford on March 16.
Q: I’m sort of obsessed with your latest album. Did you feel you were onto something special in the studio?
A: Yeah, I did, because it was so so different from anything I’ve ever done. We worked with engineer Mike McCarthy. He’s brilliant. We went to Texas, so everybody’s head space was different, and it was special when we were doing it. You know, it was really special to me.
Q: Was this the first time you recorded an album in Texas?
A: Yeah, everything I recorded before that had been either Nashville or L.A, most of it Nashville. When I was growing up in Texas, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know what I was going to do. My whole life, I had these big dreams and hopes, and I was excited. Everything still lay before me, and to come back here, I feel like that again. It felt like that while making the record.
Q: My absolute favorite songs on the album — “All the Trouble,” “Hollywood” and “Mama Lost Her Smile” — you wrote with songwriters Waylon Payne and Adam Wright. What was the process like?
A: Those songs were written while I was on the road, and so I had them come out to meet me. I had a few days off in between dates, and so I found an Airbnb. We just pulled up and wrote, you know, in houses — one was on the East Coast and one was on the West Coast.
Q: I’m guessing “Hollywood” was written on the West Coast.
A: Yes! It was literally, like, we’d wake up, we’d make coffee, we’d make toast, we think about last night, you know, and somebody would have an idea. It was literally just laying around the house with guitars everywhere: you’d pick one up and start playing. It was very natural. It wasn’t, like, “Meet me at the office at 10 a.m. and we’ll get a cubicle.” It was a lot more natural than that. I’m very close to both of those guys. We’re friends. We’re almost family.
Q: This album was a departure from “The Way I’m Livin,’” your last album, simply because you had a hand in writing nearly all of these songs. Why is that?
A: I had more time to write. For the last 18 years, I’ve been working and doing all the crap that comes with having a commercial career. You get very busy doing a lot of things that don’t matter. And I had kids. I was raising kids. I had a kid when I made my first record, and so, they’re older now, and I just had more time.
Q: Do you feel like there was a commercial time for you, and now you’re in a sort of post-commercial time, when you can do whatever you want?
A: Yes, very much so. I understood how the business works to a certain point before I signed with MCA Records. My first husband [Jason Sellars] was on the road with Ricky Skaggs. He was the road manager and bass player, and I was singing demos and I was writing. I understood how the business worked to a certain extent, but I didn’t really understand how silly a lot of the commercial industry could be, between the time I signed the deal and fulfilled the contract. It got worse, I think. It was a game I did not want to play.
Q: Does it feel good to be liberated from that?
A: So much has changed. As far as the actual music — my first single was a song called “Never Again, Again.” That was in 1998. That was a hardcore traditional country song. They were trying to get it on country radio. Just the process of recording it was a lot different, the way it sounded and everything. But I was fighting for what I’m doing now. I was fighting the entire time.
Q: Having a strong, new collection of songs in hand, is it tempting to go out and just play all of them live, all the way through?
A: Yes. I mean, I know I can’t do that. It’s not fair to sell tickets to people who are expecting to hear all the hits. What’s so cool, though — I don’t really understand how it happened, but there are so many people who don’t even know the old stuff who are coming out. Even over the course of the album being released and in the last couple shows that this past week, there’s people that know every word of the songs. And, yeah, it’s blowing me away. It’s very exciting. And there are people who also want to hear “I Hope You Dance.” And I’m very happy about that.
LEE ANN WOMACK performs at Infinity Hall in Hartford on March 16 at 8:30 p.m., with Charlie Worsham opening. Tickets are $34-$54. infinityhall.com