The Un-Rock Star is Back
About five years ago, Tommy Womack came apart. The rock 'n' roller from Bowling Green, who played the club circuit during the 1980s with his venerable pop-punk band Government Cheese, suffered a nervous breakdown and abruptly dropped out of music. This on the heels of winning the award for Best Song in the Nashville Scene Critics Poll for his song "The Replacement," which appeared on his last solo album, 2002's Circus Town.
But although Womack gave up music, it apparently didn't give up him. He formed a band called Daddy with longtime friend and collaborator Will Kimbrough and joined Todd Snider's band, only to wind up performing on Leno and Letterman. Before long, he was playing every weekend again and new songs were coming to him left and right.
The result of this upheaval and rebirth is the charming, 12-song collection that is There, I Said It! With this set, we find Womack pulling back a bit on his humorous side and opening up his heart and feelings like never before. The subject matter is the story of his life over the last five years and it also works as an extended metaphor in that it's a delicate balance between stories about everyday life and family versus the trials and tribulations about being a musician.
The beautiful "A Songwriter's Prayer" is about his time spent working a clerical job he hated and praying for song ideas that could liberate him. Womack doesn't have the smoothest singing voice in the biz (it actually carries a bit of a Dylan-esque quality), but when he feels it, you feel it.
"If That's All There Is to See" bounces in next with beautiful jangle-pop guitars and a story about what it's really like to be a traveling musician - from small towns to drunken trysts. "If that's all there is to see / I guess I've seen it all," he sings.
"Nice Day," a beautiful folk-rocker, takes a turn in a different direction, telling a simple story about a day spent swimming with his family in a friend's pool. He reflects on the fact he'll never be able to afford his own pool and notes, "Our beds are unmade / our bills are half paid / But we've got booze up on the shelves." Some of his points are made as asides, but boy does he ever make them.
"I'm Never Gonna Be a Rock Star" is as autobiographical as Womack can get and it's in the chorus that he pulls out the album's title: "I'm never gonna be a rock star / There I said it." It's basically Womack faux whining, a "Why me?" lament delivered with a wink, guitars, accordion and a sweet and bluesy bass line.
"Too Much Month at the End of the Xanax" takes a humorous jab at his nervous breakdown and is based on a panic attack he had after he'd taken all his Xanax one month. Simple as that and it's as weird-sounding and effective as hell, like a lost Zappa tape.
Womack gets outside himself a bit when he looks backward and outward in "Alpha Male & The Canine Mystery Blood," a seven-minute musing on everything from stupid band names to metronomes to the resurrection of Christ in a spoken-word style delivered over a rocking track that builds like a storm.
"Fluorescent Light Blues" is just what it says - a blues a tune that lives on the line, "I wanna work somewhere without fluorescent lights." Similarly, "Cockroach After the Bomb" is Womack comparing his career and life to, yep, a cockroach after the big one drops - the ultimate survivor. The album outros on the chunky, tentatively upbeat "Everything's Coming Up Roses Again," followed by a reprise of "Nice Day."
Through it all, the production and recording are top-notch. Kudos to John Deaderick (Dixie Chicks, Patty Griffin) for the sound quality throughout this disc. And better yet, you come to actually care about the family and life Womack paints - from his son, to his wife, even his job. When he tosses off lines like, "I'm a bald-headed rocker with a good-looking lawn," how can you not care?
Really, this is one of the best things I've heard in 2007, but chances are good that 2007 will come and go with Womack still not getting the recognition he deserves as a songwriter. Yes, he's come to terms with the fact that he'll never be a rock star, but my guess is that if he was offered the chance he'd still take it. Who wouldn't?