Greatest Hits

Lee Ann Womack just wasn't born to play the victim.

About halfway through her first greatesthits collection, there's a definite switch from hard-luck stories to hard-won wisdom. It's an attitude adjustment that suited her well, and makes the last half of Greatest Hits one of the most stellar half-hours on CD right now.

Songs like "The Fool," "You've Got to Talk to Me" and "I'll Think of a Reason Later" - Greatest Hits cuts drawn from her first two albums - find the singer in a position of weakness, pleading helpless, hopeless cases. But when "I Hope You Dance" swoops in - just after the featherweight "I'll Think of a Reason Later" - Greatest Hits comes fully to life. Clear-eyed and hopeful, "Dance" still sounds just as magnificent as it did upon its release four years ago.

From that point on, Lee Ann sounds like a woman in command, even when her world is crumbling around her - as in the searing "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" or the harrowing "Why They Call It Falling." Adding to that impression is a shift to more gussied-up production and arrangements, which set off her pure-country voice to compelling effect - especially on 2002's criminally underrated "Something Worth Leaving Behind."

The two new tracks- including the current hit "The Wrong Girl" - suggest a move back toward traditional country. That's just fine, as long as Lee Ann doesn't forget who's in charge: She is.

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