I don’t know if you’ve heard the new Natalie Maines record, Mother, but it’s really quite exceptional.
I’ve been listening to it pretty often, as it suits my mood of wanting to belt shit at the top of my lungs in my tiny office at work. It’s also made me realize how much I missed Maines’ voice, whose band the Dixie Chicks was a staple of my twenty something years. Recently I feel that they have been forgotten or ignored in the pop music scene as a whole (Fly is a CD used bin staple), which upsets me greatly. The more traditionally, musically, side project Court Yard Hounds (the sisters without Natalie) got more buzz than Mother.
I don’t understand why more singing competition shows don’t feature “Long Time Gone” or “Tortured, Tangled Hearts”–I get why they wouldn’t cover the later, more political/personal stuff, but aside from “Sin Wagon,” I can’t remember a Chicks song on any of these shows in the past 5-7 years (I do not count “Landslide”). I’ve heard Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels” a hundred times, but never “Goodbye Earl.”
In my late teens/early 20s, I was staunchly into only indie artists and didn’t like anything that was popular (these were the years of American boybands and poptarts), so when “Cowboy Take Me Away” was added to the rotation at the movie theater where I worked, I was pissed. I hated cleaning popcorn off sticky floors while hearing that crap. However, the harmonies eventually wormed their way into my brain and I learned to tolerate Dixie Chicks.
In the following years, I got more interested in alt-country (thanks Ryan Adams) in time to fall in love with “Long Time Gone,” the twangy lead single off Home. The record was (and still is) their least commercial sounding; while only four of the songs were co-written by the women in the band (sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison round out the trio), the rest are unknown gems written by stellar songwriters, with one exception: super huge hit “Landslide,” a Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks cover.
I worked my way backwards and got the other two Maines-fronted Chicks records. I was surprised that “Goodbye Earl” had never caught on with indie or punk kids due to its general badassery.
I was full on obsessed when Taking the Long Way came out a few years after the band became the scourge of country music for speaking out against George W. Bush’s participation in the war in Iraq. The record is a little further from the country and bluegrass of Home and closer to the rock that Maines has favored in her solo work–it’s also produced by legend Rick Rubin.
I had THE WORST job when this came out and my coworkers listened to bad country radio all the time but thankfully, they loved this record.
One of the things I like best about the Dixie Chicks is the small group of collaborators and artists they have worked with or covered.
Gary Louris from The Jayhawks cowrote some of the songs on Taking the Long Way, including my fave “Everybody Knows.” Maines covered Jayhawks classic “I’d Run Away” on Mother.
I keep forgetting frequent collaborator Dan Wilson was in Semisonic (you know, “Closing Time”), but his pop sensibilities elevate the harmonies and musical talent of the ladies. Mother features a cover of HIS wonderful song “Free Life.”
I also appreciate that songs from Silver Bell, Patty Griffin’s long lost third record, have been covered by both the Chicks and Maines. I think the ability to choose and interpret songs is just as important as being a good songwriter.
Finally, if you have some time this weekend and would like some homework, watch Shut Up & Sing, the documentary about recording Taking the Long Way and dealing with the fallout from the W. comments (oh the misogyny).