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Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way

Dixie Chicks: Taking the Long Way

Label:Open Wide/Columbia
Release Date:2006

By Ian Grey | Posted 6/28/2006

“Goodbye Earl,” 1999’s unabashedly homicidal wife-beater revenge tune, suggested there was more to the Dixie Chicks than ace chops and posed cutie sneers. But it took seasoned career reanimator Rick Rubin to peel away the cloying Music Row sonic taffeta that clogged previous, gazillion-selling efforts. The result, Taking the Long Way, is a style-spanning dazzler. Natalie Maines’ voice, recorded here sans digital processing, has become a mutable wonder, as capable of best-pal whisper as it is of chandelier-shattering yowl.

The rage thing is, of course, courtesy the death-threat reaction to Maines’ 2003 dis of George W. Bush. But the Chicks sound even more juiced on their total reinvention, employing such outside-Nashville unlikelies as ex-Crowded House member Neil Finn, Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, and Keb’ Mo’ as co-writers. A band including the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer and two enablers from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers provides a moody, rockier Booker T. and the MG’s vibe.

The Chicks’ mission statement is magnificently encapsulated by “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Above a stark guitar figure that gradually builds to a Roy Orbison-esque power-orchestra crescendo, Maines’ voice scales a growth chart from anger to an oddly resigned brand of self-affirmation. Everything else on Taking pales somewhat in comparison, but what’s left is a plummy blend of sweet, sad, and miffed, with lyrics addressing Alzheimer’s in the countrified, super pretty ELO-ishness swathing “Silent House” and infertility in the keening “So Hard.” Outright missteps are few, though the feh “Favorite Year,” co-written with Sheryl Crow, comes to mind.

The other Chicks’ skills no longer provide mere rote reassurances of genre. Emily Robison’s machine-precise banjo adds a mean pucker to the small town kiss-off “Lubbock or Leave It.” Martie Maguire’s violin—a fiddle no more—is open-fifths melancholic on the Pogues-inspired “Bitter End,” and sonorous like a brooding high cello elsewhere. But it’s in the gossamery, gorgeous “Easy Silence” that we get a taste of where a post-Rubin, sui generis Chicks might go. The abrupt tinkling of a tapped triangle interrupting Maines’ intimate verse makes your breath catch; the chorus’ angelically achy harmony layers take it away entirely.

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