Lee Ann Womack 'Dances' To The Top

Singer's 'I Hope You Dance' earned four Grammy nods.

NASHVILLE — As dances go, the partnering of country stylist Lee Ann Womack and the Nashville music machine has created a unique ballet. Womack is an outspoken champion of country traditionalism at a time when such artists are a rarity, yet she's been embraced wholeheartedly by fans and industry alike.

Now Womack has received the ultimate of affirmations: a stunning four Grammy nominations for her third release, I Hope You Dance, and its juggernaut title track. The album received a Country Album of the Year nomination, while "I Hope You Dance" (RealAudio excerpt) is in the running for Country Song of the Year and Song of the Year. Womack herself was nominated for Best Country Female Vocalist of the Year.

"The fact that the album was recognized makes me very, very happy," Womack said, "because it's one of those things where we really work on the music as part of a whole. It's about the songs, what the musicians play, the guests who suit each song and trying to make it all be something greater than just a collection of performances."

The Grammy news caps an eventful year 2000 for Womack. "I Hope You Dance" spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and in October became the Country Music Assn.'s Song and Single of the Year. The success has manifested itself in some tangible ways.

"Professionally speaking, I've been more 'wanted' than before," Womack laughed. Indeed, this woman is in demand, appearing at such events as football's Orange Bowl and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway in December.

"Last year was such a kind of lull, I was working really hard on the record and I had had a baby, so I was getting myself back into shape," she reflected. "I had worked night and day but this is a different kind of work — everyone else wants something of you."

"I Hope You Dance" seemed tailor-made for Womack, who has leaned toward songs that pack a lyrical wallop without being preachy or too cute. Her image as country music's working mom was solidified with the song's video, which showed Womack tenderly playing with her two children.

So fans may have been a tad surprised by the follow-up video, "Ashes By Now" (RealAudio excerpt), which showed Womack with a tousled mane of hair, vamping it up in skin-tight leather pants. A concession to the image-conscious powers that be? Womack says no.

"We just wanted to do something a little different, show a different side. All of my hits have been victim-y ballad kind of things, and we wanted to do something that was kind of in-your-face. It's nothing more

than pure entertainment, it gives me and my team a chance to stretch out and do something different."

Many of today's biggest female names capitalize on their sex appeal, but it's not an issue for Womack.

"I think it's something you can choose to do or choose not to. I guess it depends on what you're going after. There are a lot of people who want other things — they want to model and act. As long as you aren't relying on that to have a career or to sell your records, if it's something you want to give a whirl, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Indeed, Womack is focusing on more important issues, like how her records are made. She has started to be a little more vocal about her desire to break the typical Nashville mold, and she says we may see her shake things up a bit in the future.

"I'm learning about different approaches to making music," she said. "My husband and I have begun to work together a little bit; he cut three things on this record and I've learned a lot from him. It opens your eyes, you learn there's a lot of kinds of music and a lot of different musicians, there's a lot of things you can try.

"There's this one formula in Nashville everyone seems to adhere to in terms of making records; I want to make music in a lot of different ways. It probably won't be too long before I take a different approach

in my records."