Lee Ann Womack
The Carolina Theatre, Durham
Thursday, September 24, 2015

It was part honky-tonk, part Sunday service on Thursday night at Durham’s Carolina Theatre.

“I get my country music side from my dad, but gospel music from my mom,” announced Lee Ann Womack as she worked her way through the high highs of praise songs and the low lows of weepers about infidelity and addiction. The East Texas native’s explanation of her musical upbringing reflected the revival-like energy of her set, which opened with her debut 1997 single, the striking “Never Again, Again.”

The angel and devil on her shoulders shared the spotlight throughout the night, especially as Womack worked in newer material from her dazzling 2014 release, The Way I’m Livin’. Two songs in particular offered interesting studies in comparison by straddling bar stool and church pew alike: The Mindy Smith-penned barnburner “All His Saints” inspired fervent hallelujahs from the audience, while the lonely “Send It On Down,” in which Womack sings of killing a quart of liquor in the empty stands of a Sunday morning football field and asking Jesus for a one-way ticket out of town, felt like a booze-soaked Hail Mary.

The Way I’m Livin’ is the long-anticipated follow-up to 2008’s Call Me Crazy, and Womack noted her penchant for long lapses between albums when introducing “Solitary Thinkin’,” a more culpable take on Merle Haggard’s “Stay Here and Drink.” “I’ve been known to take a few years off making records, but my husband [Frank Liddell], who produces me, brought me this song, and I said, ‘I’m back!’” she said with a grin.

Womack powered through career highlights like “A Little Past Little Rock,” “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” “You’ve Got to Talk to Me” and “I May Hate Myself In the Morning,” proving that her knack for song selection nearly rivals her showstopping voice. Her lone country cover—not counting her version of Don Williams’ “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good,” from 2000’s I Hope You Dance—offered insight into that unique sound, as she massaged the sadness of George Jones’ “You’re Still On My Mind” in a familiarly Possum-like fashion. Her confidence and style, however, harkened back to bold country music foremothers like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, all the way down to her glamorously teased hair, caftan-like minidress and ankle boots.

Throughout the show, Womack made several references to “real country,” earning hoots and hollers from the crowd. She didn’t define the term, but she did wryly note how her pop-crossover smash “I Hope You Dance” stood out in her discography.

At the height of that song’s popularity at the turn of the millennium, Womack was filling stadiums. The intimate, ornate Carolina Theatre—about two-thirds full for this show—was a far cry from five figures worth of fans, but Womack didn’t seem to mind. Neither did the audience.