Dixie Chicks' 'Way' is unabashed
By Howard Cohen
Knight Ridder News Service
By Howard Cohen
"Taking the Long Way" by the Dixie Chicks; Open Wide/Columbia
When Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines said in 2003 that she was ashamed to come from the same state as the president in response to Bush sending troops to Iraq, she encountered polarizing fallout.
Maines addresses the incident on the powerful "Not Ready to Make Nice," the centerpiece of the Chicks' first CD since her comment. It's a stunning piece of pop music and a testament to the brilliance of producer Rick Rubin. Every note, every instrument counts. "Not Ready to Make Nice" is as close to perfection as a pop song gets.
"Taking the Long Way" is intensely personal, and the first of the Chicks' seven albums to feature songs all co-written by the trio, but surprisingly it is not a partisan album. "Not Ready to Make Nice" is not anti-Bush, doesn't comment on his policies or name any individual. Rather, it addresses narrow-minded intolerance and hatred. Maines is unrepentant, "It's too late to make it right/ I probably wouldn't if I could," and she's shocked at how low some would go:
"It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger/ and how in the world can the words that I said/ Send somebody so over the edge/ That they'd write me a letter/ Sayin' that I better shut up and sing/ Or my life will be over."
Stung by the ban of their music on country radio, and unapologetically stubborn, the trio rips the threads out of the straitjacket parameters of Nashville and offers the barest hint of country through 66 minutes of music. Rubin enlists members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Heartbreakers, the Jayhawks, Semisonic and Bonnie Raitt for a gritty pop/rock flavor.
"Lubbock or Leave It" flirts with hard rock; "Lullaby" is a stark acoustic guitar ballad. "The Long Way Around," with its sun-kissed '70s Southern California-inspired harmonies and hook, feels like a lost cut from the "white" "Fleetwood Mac" LP.
The defiance is admirable, but latter tracks "Baby Hold On," "I Like It" and "So Hard" are lightweight by comparison and sound like Sheryl Crow songs. We could easily lose them.
A sharply written country song, or two, would have beaten the close-minded community at its own game. The CD could use some patented Chicks sense of humor.
As a result, "Home," the CD at No. 1 at the time of Maines' outburst, remains the Dixie Chicks' overall masterpiece. But with the bold "Taking the Long Way," the Chicks prove they are in line to become among the all-time greats.