In 2012, singer-songwriter Tommy Womack overcame years of addiction to become clean and sober. The album he released that year, Now What!
, received rave reviews. Things were going well.
Last year, however, another roadblock came his way as he was driving through “the Boondocks of Kentucky” to a concert in Grand Rapids. He came to what he thought was a four-way stop. It wasn’t. A semi-truck plowed into the passenger side of his car, spinning him around and shattering the windshield. Glass was everywhere. The crash broke Womack’s pelvis in four places.
“It changed everything, my friend," says the very cordial Womack via phone from his Nashville home. “I am very lucky. If something like this had to happen, thank God it happened now when there wasn’t a joint in the ashtray or a half empty bottle of Wild Turkey rolling around on the floorboard. There was a point in my life when those would have been the reality. None of that was a factor this time.”
When he finally left the emergency to go home in a wheelchair, his friends were ready, willing and able to help take care of him. One built a wheelchair ramp at the back of the house. Others started bringing food and visiting. A couple of friends put up a GoFundMe page to help raise some money to cover medical experiences and supplement his income. Some of his favorite alt-country acts — Dan Baird and the Georgia Satellites, Jason and the Scorchers, Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks and Will Kimbrough — played a benefit concert on his behalf.
“I was on crutches but I was able to get up and sit in on a couple of songs with Will,” Womack says. “I got this standing ovation when Will introduced me.”
The photo of Womack that appears on his new album, Namaste
, suggests the profound affect that benefit concert had on him. Taken at the concert by photographer Anthony Scarlati, it depicts Womack in profile, head bowed toward pressed-together palms.
“The front cover of my album with me holding my hands up like I’m Gandhi or something — that was that moment,” says Womack. “It suggested the album title. The whole spirit of the album suggested the title of the album but when I saw that picture, I thought, ‘Namaste,’ and it tied everything together for me. I’m not even a yoga person. I’m a funky Buddhist Methodist. My dad was a preacher, and I was brought up in the church. I have found great comfort in Zen Buddhism. I wouldn’t call myself a practicing Buddhist. I do stretches at home. I put my hand on the bureau and stretch my knees out. I do go that far.”
When it came time to cutting the songs on Namaste, Womack proceeded with a real sense of urgency.
“One thing that informed the record was that I didn’t waste any time,” he says. “I made every moment count when I was in the studio. There was no fretting or ruminating over what to do. It was like, ‘This overdub sounds the best. Let’s go with that one.’ We recorded that record in six days.”
Like all the albums in Womack’s catalog, Namaste
features a bit of everything. The album opens with tender, twangy ballad “Angel,” a song that finds Womack singing in an upper-register as he croons “angel, you got me on my knees/I got problems.” Womack even adopts a Tom Petty-like sneer for the mid-tempo “The End of the Line.”
“The songs didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the wreck, but they’re built with the wreck in consideration,” says Womack. “There was this desire to not have a single weak verse in the link. It was if it were my last will and testament. We wanted to have every ‘i’ dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. Lyrically, the songs don’t concern the wreck at all or the aftermath, but the spirit was definitely influenced by the wreck. I don’t think there’s anything I’ll do for the rest of my life that doesn’t involve the wreck.”
In the piano-driven “Darling, Let Your Free Bird Fly,” he references rock’s various tragedies.
“That’s a song where the verse that started everything didn’t survive the final edit — ‘used to be an alter boy but never did raped/done some nasty things but none of it has ever been videotaped.’ I wrote it down on a napkin and fleshed it out over time. Those lines went through endless revision. That first verse about being an alter boy didn’t survive for obvious reasons. The song became about musical figures in not just in my life but over all of time. Hank [Williams] and Minnie Pearl and Johnny and June [Cash] and [Bob] Dylan. Everybody had some kind of brush with mortality if you want to look for some car crash analogies, that might be the song that has the most on it.”
Womack says he doesn’t necessarily set out to touch upon so many different musical styles but since he listens to much different music, he tends to mimic that with his own songs.
“To me, they all sound of the same piece,” he says of the songs on Namaste
. “I don’t think about it when I’m doing it that I need a blues song or a country song. Most of them start with lyrics. I go toward what kind of music the lyrics seem to be asking for. I can write Beatles-esque stuff and the occasional power pop number with more florid chord changes and stuff, but I don’t necessarily sing like those kinds of songs. To me, they don’t sound all that different. People tell me the records are eclectic, and my record collection is eclectic. My shower time listening is eclectic. One day might be Miles [Davis] or Robyn Hitchcock or the Stooges. I like almost all music. I still can’t get behind Wu Tang and modern country music turns my stomach, but other than that I like most of what I hear.”
Tommy Womack, Sands & Hearn, 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $15, beachlandballroom.com.