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Lee Ann Womack leaves a mark - in her music and her life

Story by Wendy Newcomer

Teenage Lee Ann Womack walks slowly down the hall of her high school in Texas. She has headphones over her ears, and she's listening intently to Vern Gosdin's heartbreaking "Chiseled In Stone" on a Walkman. As she listens to its mournful tale of a man who's lost his wife, it's all she can do not to break down in front of her fellow students.

"I know the way it made me feel is not normal for a 16-year-old," she remembers today. "I guarantee you none of my friends were listening to that and just wanting to cry. But I've always been drawn to sad songs. I don't know why. I think it's the realness of them."

Lee Ann's attraction to more melancholy material has paid off once more with "Something Worth Leaving Behind," the haunting, thoughtful ballad that's also the title track of her new album. Just like listeners across the country, Lee Ann was deeply moved when she first heard the song.

"I thought, 'What a great message,'" she recalls. "It was great to be able to say, 'You know, not everybody's going to paint a masterpiece or grow up and be Elvis or Marilyn Monroe.' But that's not what's most important in this world. What's most important is the love you can give someone else. That's what can really change the world."

The song concludes that the values we pass on to our children comprise the best - and the most important - shot most of us have at leaving a great legacy when we're gone. It's a message that Lee Ann sees at work in her own life, as she and husband/producer Frank Liddell go about raising daughters Aubrie, 11, and 3-year-old Anna Lise.

Lee Ann is careful to spend plenty of time with her daughters, despite her busy schedule. To make that a little simpler, she plans to bring her kids on tour with her, as she has in the past, through October.

"Aubrie knows every studio, and every person who works at every studio," chuckles Lee Ann. "She will definitely [grow up to] be in entertainment. She wants to sing and act, and she's really pursuing it. I've been watching her, and I can tell she has the drive. I recognize it because I had it, too.

"She's also in a home school co-op," adds Lee Ann. "She goes to school at church two days a week and stays home for three, where we have someone who gives her lessons."

And when Lee Ann is away and can't bring the kids, Frank often plays Mr. Mom. "Since we've had Anna, I've been on the road so much that Frank has really taken over," she says lovingly. "But sometimes when I get home and Frank is getting ready to give Anna her bath, I do it just so I can have the pleasure of doing it."

Not that Lee Ann doesn't get plenty of pleasure from her work. She was elated with the success of 2000's blockbuster hit "I Hope You Dance" and the multiplatinum-selling album of the same name. Still, Lee Ann felt no pressure to top I Hope You Dance with the new Something Worth Leaving Behind.

"I'm a competitive person," she admits, "but when it comes to the music, I don't compete with myself or anybody else. I feel pressure every time I go in the studio - but the pressure I feel is to make something great."

To do that, she has an unusual method. To find songs for her new album (with the exception of the newly written title track), Lee Ann poked around Nashville for old gems and undiscovered hits.

"Usually the songs I want, nobody else wants!" she exclaims, laughing. "Or nobody else would cut them. I cut things that have been laying around and pitched around town for years. I usually just put a song in a drawer somewhere, and just know it's going to be there when I get ready to record again."

Texas alt-country favorite Bruce Robison's "Blame It On Me" was one of those undiscovered tunes. "I've had that song in mind forever," she says. And Lee Ann says the Patsy Cline-ish "He'll Be Back," co-written by the legendary Hank Cochran, "sat around for about a year" before she recorded it.

Get the whole story in This week's (9/17/02) "Newsstand Issue" on sale now!