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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Three years after her last album was lauded by the industry but drew little attention on radio, country singer-songwriter Lee Ann Womack is back with "Call Me Crazy."
In the time since the last album, 2005's "There's More Where That Came From," Womack did "family stuff," wrote a lot and worked with 17-year-old daughter Aubrey, an aspiring artist ("Around our house music has a way of sneaking in there," she said).
When she was ready to hit the studio, Womack teamed with producer Tony Brown (Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn). "I had wanted to work with Tony since I came to town," Womack said, adding that she's a fan of his work with Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and George Strait. "I kind of knew what he would like and what he would gravitate toward, and it's a lot of the same things that I do."
The album -- due October 21 via MCA Nashville -- has a dark vibe, with plenty of drinking and love lost, but Womack said it wasn't intentional. "I try to go through the whole process with blinders on and just cut songs that really work for me. Sometimes it ends up being different when I don't even realize it's different.
"It probably seems dark compared to what's been made around here the last couple years," Womack continued. "I don't think it's dark compared to Hank Williams or George Jones. It's what I gravitate toward -- songs that make you feel something."
Universal Music Group Nashville chairman Luke Lewis appreciates Womack's honesty. "There's plenty of happy love songs these days. I welcome songs about pain, especially from someone that can sing that well and emote," he said.
Haunting first single "Last Call," which includes the memorable line "I bet you're in a bar because I'm always your last call," is No. 38 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
Not every song is downbeat. Thought-provoking "The Bees," which features vocals from Keith Urban, comes out of left field. "New Again" also has a more positive spin.
"I have this fascination with people who are able to fix things or take something old and make them new again," Womack said. "When I first wrote it I was thinking of George Strait, because he can take classic, traditional country music and make it new again."
The set includes a duet with Strait, "Everything but Quits," and a cover of his "The King of Broken Hearts," which Womack said is an anthem in Texas. "I really did not want to cut the song, but I love it -- that's why I didn't want to cut it." After hearing her sing it when Strait was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006, Lewis and Brown convinced Womack to record it.
Lewis calls Womack a "mature artist," and she agrees. "I'm at a place in my life that I'm allowing myself to enjoy it more," she said. "Because I've had time off and a chance to breathe, it allowed me to come back with a different kind of energy."