May 25th, 2006

eloquent with rage

Dixie Chicks take the long way home

It seems like forever ago that Dixie Chicks were publicly flogged for mentioning their anti-Bush views in concert, and they also received a fair amount of negative press for appearing nude and unattractive (if verbose) on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Four years after the triumphant Home, the platinum-selling ladies of modern Country music attempt to stand tall with their cryptically but applicably titled Taking the Long Way. And despite some misgivings about their latest batch of tunes, I remain solidly, if warily, on their side.

Anyone looking for a step forward from, or even a repeat of, the stripped-down, bluegrass-inspired Home is sure to be disappointed. Taking the Long Way returns Dixie Chicks to the radio-friendly sound of Fly and Wide Open Spaces. There’s nothing wrong with that, though on Home they lambasted the genre of music they give us here. Admittedly, their playing is strong, harmonies hypnotic, and form topnotch, as always. They also can be particularly proud in that they co-wrote every song this time around, unlike previous outings, and at the same time avoided (thankfully) all the standard Country/Western clichés up to and including dead wives and ex-dogs.

Dixie Chicks have always carried in their music a sense of longing, but Taking the Long Way practically bleeds the stuff. “Silent House,” co-written by Neil Finn of Crowded House fame, is a beautiful snapshot of a failed relationship: “Everyday that will pass you by; Every name that you won’t recall; Everything that you made by hand; Everything that you know by heart.” During “Easy Silence,” we nod as they remind us of things we already know but are never quite sure anyone else cares about: “They form commissions trying to find; The next one they can crucify; And anger plays on every station; Answers only make more questions.” In answer to critics who felt Dixie Chicks were undermining the war effort, “Not Ready to Make Nice” is light and breezy in its attitude while it firmly shreds those naysayers of free speech: “It turned my whole world around; And I kind of like it; I made my bed and I sleep like a baby; With no regrets…”

Rick Rubin, who has produced mostly rap and hard rock acts for two decades, gives Taking the Long Way a lush, almost Phil Spector quality in producing Dixie Chicks practically as an orchestra. There are notable exceptions: the lovely yet unnecessary “Lullaby” (do all mothers have to do the baby song on their albums these days?) and “I Like It,” an experience not unlike walking straight from a pickup into a smoky road house, sitting down at the bar with a shot and a beer, and tapping your boot along with the beat of the band. Natalie, Martie and Emily also boast their versatility on “I Hope,” the album’s gospel-seasoned countri-funked coda. It comes too late, though, to long for more variety from Dixie Chicks, at least this go-around. Perhaps the band feels a certain longing as well but was compelled out of necessity to provide an accessible album to maintain their popularity after the political controversy and extended absence. Take heart that, although Taking the Long Way might not surprise at every turn, its convention is far more entertaining than most other Country artists’ innovations.

©2006, Robert A. Geise - May not be reprinted without express permission. Hot-linking welcome.