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Lee Ann Womack's Big Dreams Become Bigger Reality

Texas country singer enters fourth straight week at top of singles chart.

I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack's third album, debuted at #1 and has gone gold after only three weeks in release.

Her current single, the title song from that album, will again be at #1 on next week's Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, its fourth straight week on top.

One might suspect such sudden success would swell any performer's head, but Womack is not any performer. Behind her passionate, believable singing rests the canny business sense of a woman who grew up — in Jacksonville, Texas — dreaming of being a country star and then studied and worked to make that dream a reality.

"I guess you never really know what's going to happen in this business, but from the time I was a little girl, I expected to have a successful career," Womack said from her Nashville home.

Womack's success has been spurred by the acceptance of "I Hope You Dance" (RealAudio excerpt), an inspirational benediction in the tradition of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." The song, written by Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, has struck an emotional chord in many people, beginning with Womack herself.

"When I first heard it, I thought it was a great song," she said. "It made me think about my children. And I thought, if it makes me think of something that special, it must be a special song." Womack, 33, has two daughters, Anna and Aubrey — she's currently on what might be called her "Mom Tour," typically playing only two dates a week — and, thanks to "I Hope You Dance," many more spiritual kin.

"I love getting on my Web site [leeannwomack.com], where you can post something immediately. And I get to see people that have just been on in the last few hours, what they have to say about it," Womack said. "There are always some inspirational stories, and some that are sad, and some that are real happy. But it's obviously one of those songs that really touches people."

Song Says Everything Singer Wanted

In more ways than one, "I Hope You Dance" is a departure for Womack. Some of her past hits, such as "Never Again, Again" and "A Little Past Little Rock," may have provided inspiration, but they weren't "real happy" tunes. "This song is so positive," Womack said, "and a lot of the things I do are real sad, country songs. So that's definitely a change for me. And I think it's a good thing.

"I don't usually find real positive kinds of songs that I really love and want to cut," she said. "But this one just said everything that I wished for my children — and for myself as well. I need to remind myself how small you should feel when you're standing next to the ocean, or 'give faith a fighting chance' and all those things."

And in contrast to "The Healing Kind," the unadorned, Allison Krauss-styled song that precedes it on the album, "I Hope You Dance" is given a full-bodied production. Womack's open, honest singing, which has earned her a comparison to Dolly Parton, is set against swelling strings and a robust vocal assist from the Sons of the Desert.

"To be honest with you, that was more the call of my producer, Mark Wright. He and I both have a lot of input in the production," Womack said. "There are several things on [the album] that are real stripped down and really kind of bluegrassy. That's all my influence, and those are my players that I call in. And I have a lot to say about that kind of production. And then, when you get into the string section, synthesizers and things, it's going to be more Mark. And I love it, I think he did a great job. But I certainly don't want to take the credit for it."

Success The Result Of Wise Choices

What Womack will take credit for is her well-plotted career, giving nods to her hand-picked record label, MCA Nashville, and manager, George Strait mastermind Erv Woolsey. (Her first two albums, 1997's Lee Ann Womack and 1998's Some Things I Know, were released on Decca, which was then folded into parent MCA Nashville.) Championing such singer-songwriters as Rodney Crowell ("Ashes by Now" [RealAudio excerpt]), Bruce Robison ("Lonely Too") and Buddy and Julie Miller ("I Know Why the River Runs" and "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" [RealAudio excerpt]), Womack has been hailed as a beacon of integrity in the big, bad world of the music industry.

She readily admits, however, that there's a tricky balancing act involved. "There always has been, even when I was trying to get a deal," Womack said. "That's going through your mind: 'Is what I'm doing going to work right now? And will they see that it's commercial enough to make money?'

"But I think the thing that's worked for me ... is to get that all out of my mind," Womack said. "To just make the best music that I can and hope that it works."