Lee Ann Womack wasn’t about to pretend to be something she wasn’t — in this case, completely healthy.
“I’ve been sick for a couple weeks,” the Jacksonville native told a near-capacity crowd at the Kessler Theater Wednesday, her first of two nights at the venue. “My voice is going to go ahead and crack, as it’s already done — just warning you.”
She shared this as she sipped some hot tea to soothe her throat, although, apart from a few, fleeting bum notes during Never Again, Again and All His Saints, the night’s first two songs, few in the room probably would’ve guessed the 48-year-old vocalist was suffering at all.
But Womack, touring behind her latest LP, The Way I’m Livin’, has built a career on being relatable and real.
The simple, no-nonsense admission further endeared her to an audience already predisposed to shower her with affection.
The whoops and shouts were plentiful, although when Womack was wrapping her limber, lived-in voice around a diverse selection of country sides, the silence was reverential.
The cumulative effect made for a loose, lively and chummy set Wednesday, a roughly 90-minute affair peppered with asides — it was revealed, after she sang A Little Past Little Rock, that the nephew of one of the song’s co-writers, Tony Lane, was in attendance — and plenty of anecdotes about her two-decade career.
Country music, theoretically, is a “big tent” genre, one elastic enough to incorporate Americana, folk and blues to varying degrees. Womack, as she demonstrated repeatedly Wedensday, embodies this omnivorousness better than most.
The holy rolling thunder of All His Saints fit snugly alongside Hayes Carll’s terrific Chances Are, about the existential dread of last call, and a spare, haunting riff on the folk classic Wayfaring Stranger.
Backed by an ace quartet on the cozy Kessler stage, which was outfitted with a pair of wooden panels festooned with Edison bulbs, the prevailing mood was one of raw, vivid intimacy.
Near the end of her main set, Womack spoke about the crossover success of her biggest hit, I Hope You Dance.
In keeping with the night’s focus on peeling away the polish and telling it like it is, Womack shared a story of how label executives urged her to re-record Dance’s vocal to make it “less country.”
Long story short — the vocal stayed as is, and the song proved a platinum crossover smash: “They left the vocal alone because that’s how I talk!” she exclaimed Wednesday.
Yet again, Womack couldn’t pretend to be something she wasn’t.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to revel in the earthy beauty of every note emanating from the depths of her Lone Star soul?
Womack performs Thursday at the Kessler Theater.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713