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Exclusive Q and A: Lee Ann Womack Readies Her Next Album

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsThe rumors are true! Lee Ann Womack plans to release new music this year.

Perhaps the writers at Billboard summed it up best when they recently wrote: “When you consider the quality of her albums, any time Womack releases a new album is truly an event!”

Fair enough. Just consider the popular and critical excitement over her last album, Call Me Crazy. The 2008 album set the bar high for those that hope to meld contemporary and traditional country. What you hear in Womack’s music is flavorings from both sides that can only be from this very modern artist with a love for country greats of the past.

Although Womack is knee-deep in work, she took some time out to talk to OurStage about her new album, future acoustic shows and just what you might expect if you spent an evening at her house!

OS: I know you’ve just done the tour ” Girls with Guitars and a Piano Man” with Sara Evans, Sunny Sweeney, Joanna Smith and Phil Vassar, and I hear that you’ll be doing more intimate shows in the future, too. What prompted your interest in acoustic shows?

LAW: I was on stage opening for George Strait last year. I spent two years doing that, well, for this round actually. I did it earlier in my career, too. He’s a great man and I love his music and it was a great experience, of course. But we were in these huge venues. The problem in those situations is that those buildings aren’t built for [concerts].”
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Your Country's Right Here: Phil Vassar Goes Home for Charity

Just when you think Phil Vassar has filled his tour schedule to the brim, he adds even more appearances including several for charity.

The Lynchburg, VA native who cut his music biz teeth as a songwriter”penning such beloved tunes as “Right on the Money” by Alan Jackson, “For a Little While” by Tim McGraw and “I’m Alright” by Jo Dee Messina” has been recording his own songs for more than a decade with such Billboard hits as “Carlene,” “In a Real Love” and “Just Another Day in Paradise.”  But Vassar”who’s currently on the Girls with Guitars and a Piano Man Tour with Sara Evans, LeAnn Womack, Sunny Sweeney and Joanna Smith”also makes plenty of time for charity.

“We’ve done more shows [in the past year] than I think we’ve ever done,” said Vassar who last year released Noel, a holiday CD and has several more projects in the works.

If his recent schedule is any indication, this year may well be even busier. Consider that, despite his regular tour schedule, Vassar has just announced his fourth annual Phil Vassar Benefit Concert for Miller Home for Girls on April 4th and 5th in Lynchburg. The home, as the name indicates, is for four to twenty-one-year-old girls who are not able to live with their families.

“Miller Home has been near and dear to my heart for many years, because they do so many great things to help young women,” said Vassar who is donating 100 % of the proceeds from both concerts to the Miller Home.  “I can’t wait to get home to play some music and support this wonderful organization.”

Many of the charity shows by Vassar are in support of the military and for its members. When asked about the time and effort such concerts take, Vassar is quick to point out how much the shows mean to him.

“I moved offices recently and [found] some of the emails I received and some of the letters,” he said. “I sat down in my garage and read them and realized some of this stuff I had never seen before, which is something I hate. A lot of them were from military guys, writing me after they’d seen [a show]. Some were by guys who wrote ‘I’m sitting in a fox hole and listening to one of your songs and it is so great to hear your stories. Those songs mean a lot to us.’ Reading those letter really gets to you. They mean a lot to me.”

Tickets are currently on sale for the April 5th show, and tickets for the April 4th Acoustic Show go on sale February 6, 2012.  All tickets can be purchased at Miller Home of Lynchburg, 2134 Westerly Drive or by calling 434-845-0241 during regular business hours.

Find out more about Vassar and his upcoming performance on his Web site.

Your Country's Right Here: Sara Evans Shows Off 'Stronger' Music

Sara Evans was singing “A Little Bit Stronger” at a recent concert when she saw a man toward the front of the audience looking right at her and weeping.

The power of the song she chose as the centerpiece of her March release, Stronger, just underscored how grateful she was to be back with new music.

“When he was looking at me, crying, he had a little smile on his face, too, as if to say ‘I love this song. It means the world to me right now,'” said Evans.”I hated that he was going through something so hard, but I get so much joy as artist and entertainer really connecting with the fans in that way.”

That’s one reason Evans feels that recording the new studio album, her first in six years, was not only fun, but a of a homecoming, too. Although Evans continued to play concerts, write books and educate fans about her passions including the American Red Cross, the hiatus from writing and recording made her feel as if something was missing.

Yet her life was so filled with changes through those years, she had no choice but to leave writing and recording behind for a while. After weathering a high-profile divorce while continuing to raise her three children in a positive environment, Evans found love. When she and football-star-turned-sportscaster Jay Barker married, they settled in Birmingham, Ala. with their blended family of seven children.

“I never intended to take such a long break between studio albums. Life just happened, and I still toured and worked on writing novels but the music had to go on the back burner for awhile,” said Evans who released her latest novel, Softly and Tenderly, in January. “My No. 1 priority is always, no matter what, my family, then my friends and then my career. I have been accused of focusing too much on my career, but that’s honestly not the case. I always put my husband and my children first.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that she didn’t feel a tug to return to writing and recording.

Although she was joyful as opportunities arose to do just that, she was filled with a bit of apprehension, too.

“I spent a whole lot of time writing songs, searching for songs and getting songs from Nashville,” she said. “At time, it was frustrating. I knew I was going to make this record but I had to think about who I am now and what I wanted to say.”

Her manager urged her to take the pressure off herself and take her time selecting the songs she she wanted to record. That support, she said, made all the difference in selecting the ten tracks for the album, six of which she co-wrote.

“Once I relaxed, it all fell into place,” she said, noting the relaxed pace helped her find “A Little Bit Stronger,” which she and her manager predict is a game changer for her career. “When I heard that song I pulled my car over and called my manager and said “Have you heard this?” It became the centerpiece to the whole, entire project.”

Not, to mention, something akin to the theme for her life.

Photo by Russ Harrington

From that point on, Evans threw herself into writing, turning out songs including “What That Drink Cost Me,” about a fatal car crash and “Ticket to Ride,” about finding love.

Although some of the process was especially challenging, such as writing “Ticket to Ride” which has many time changes and what she describes as a “weird tempo,” Evans said the results were well worth the effort.

“I feel like I put together an album full of singles,” she said, noting each song on the album is a jewel, among the best she’s ever recorded. “I feel like I’m called to be an artists and an entertainer. That’s what I was meant to do.”

For more information about Evans’ music, her novels and upcoming concerts and appearances, check her Web site.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

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Teenagers these days. When they’re not singing their hearts out in church, they’re off writing cautionary tales about teen pregnancy and girls with low self-esteem.

OK, so The Springs Band aren’t your average adolescents. Corn-fed and God-fearing, the group has already accomplished more than similar acts twice their age: A deal with CFC Nashville, an award for Youth Artist of the Year from ICM and shows alongside the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Sara Evans. Laugh if you will, but these teens are on a mission.

Prolific purveyors of tear-jerking country balladry, The Spring Band delivers a canon of stories sure to give you the sniffles “ whether its bringing Cheerios to a family in need, or sharing quality time with their mamas.  But the band truly excels when they kick piety to the side and act their age. The infectiously upbeat Save The Drama For Your Mama showcases some surprisingly scathing wit: If I wanted to see a grown man cry, I’d watch Dr. Phil.

Stick that in your Cheerios, emo boys.

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