September 16, 2002 12:00 PM

Lee Ann Womack (MCA Nashville)

After it became the biggest hit of her career in 2000, “I Hope You Dance” seems to have turned Lee Ann Womack into the Queen of Wistful. There’s so much frail philosophizing on this, the country star’s fourth disc, that it comes as a relief to hear her cut loose on singer-songwriter Julie Miller’s strident “I Need You,” which is brash enough to have come off an Aerosmith album.

At 36, Womack has no reason to sound dowdy (this in marked contrast to her leggy pose on the CD’s cover). The livelier she is, the better, such as when she delivers such felicitous lines as “He’ll be back/ If he’s anything like his memory” (on “He’ll Be Back”). Womack’s voice, which can trickle off and become a wan instrument, gains noticeably in vigor when she approaches more energetic material. That’s the case on “Blame It on Me,” where, perhaps buoyed by the forceful presence of the song’s composer Bruce Robison (Dixie Chick Emily Robison’s brother-in-law) singing backup, her voice takes on added colors, throwing some bold reds and blues into the mix along with all the lavenders and chartreuses.

Bottom Line: So-so Something

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