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Dixie Chicks return with a vengeance

by Lauren Cartwright

Sometimes you don’t realize you missed something until you get it back. This was my reaction this week when a package came to YES! Weekly with a new release from one of my favorite groups ‘—’ the Dixie Chicks.

The Dixie Chicks’ new album, titled Taking the Long Way, will be out May 23. While the album is more the Eagles than Merle Haggard, it is filled with the same rebellious messages that have made them stars. They’ve been out of the scene for a few years now; I had sort of forgotten about them. I didn’t realize how much I missed their sound.

At one time, I owned all the current lineup’s CDs. There had been a couple of member changes since the group initially formed in 1989, but the formula that brought the Dixie Chicks the most success is when sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson hooked up with the one with the mouth, Natalie Maines, in 1995. I’ve learned how to judge a good CD over the years: Was it stolen from your collection? Then yes, it probably was a good one.

The already released single, ‘“Not Ready to Make Nice,’” is a reflection of the controversy when Natalie Maines spouted off about President Bush way back in 2003. Maines commented at a concert in London that she was embarrassed that President Bush was also from Texas. They were shunned by traditionally conservative country music stations and even received death threats. They sort of fell off the music radar and for a while I thought maybe they had been ‘taken care of,’ so to speak, by the Secret Service.

The Chicks felt a backlash from their core group of fans in their home country far from where the comments were even made. Radio stations refused to play their songs and some even staged Dixie Chicks CD bashing parties. The Chicks were booed at the 2003 Academy of Country Music awards show when their nomination for entertainer of the year was announced. The award eventually went to Toby Keith ‘— who had verbally sparred with the Chicks over the Bush comment. Keith’s boot-in-your-ass songs like ‘“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)’” were seen as the opposite of the Chicks, although their own ‘“Traveling Solider’” track is sympathetic to military families. Maines reportedly called Keith’s style ‘“ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant.’”

The controversy, which I chalk up to a good-ol’ country throwdown more than real news, has mostly died down. Personally, I didn’t think what was said was all that bad. Rock and roll celebrities say things all the time about politics and people don’t even blink. But in country music, there’s a real sense of patriotism and American loyalty, which translates to ‘“say nothing bad about the US.’”

Being from West Virginia, I can identify with her embarrassment about a person hailing from the same state. Take the Dancing Outlaw Jesco White, for example. For those of you not familiar with Jesco, my fellow West Virginian is a clogger/tap dancer who believes he is, in fact, channeling Elvis Presley during performances. He’s been the topic of two PBS documentaries and the butt of many jokes ‘—’ see the parallels with Bush? But Jesco is another column for another day.

Back on topic, all the songs on this album were written by the Dixie Chicks and feature their own instrumentals on the tracks, with help from rock and roll veterans Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench. Instead of begging for forgiveness, the Chicks ‘— in their usual rebellious way ‘— are giving their foes the finger with the lyrics.

But, even fans who aren’t into the politics of the Chicks can enjoy the new album because most of the songs and lyrics are written with a double meaning. ‘“Forget. Sounds good. Forgive, I’m not sure I could,’” Maines sings. Some listeners could take the song to be about a scorned lover.

Some of their usual bluegrass sounds have been tuned to more of a rock frequency. Martie’s sassy fiddle has taken on respectable violin sounds. I do miss the more upbeat Dixie Chicks songs that have been my favorites, such as ‘“Sin Wagon’” and ‘“Long Time Gone.’” Most of the songs on Taking the Long Way are ballads, which prompted one co-worker to ask if I was depressed when the CD was playing in my office. But I do understand the need for the group to make a truly emotional album in order to get over the betrayal of their industry.

Taking the Long Way, which will be added to my CD collection after this writing, I’m sure will find its way into one of my friends’ cars and will then be gone forever, along with the Dixie Chicks other two lost albums.

To comment on this column, email Lauren Cartwright at lauren@yesweekly.com.

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