Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Easy Silence

Song: Easy Silence
Artist: Dixie Chicks
Album: Taking The Long Way

Best of 2006

What an interesting couple of years the Dixie Chicks have had. Their rise to fame was slow at first but immediately changed upon the hiring of Natalie Maines as lead singer in 1998. They soon rocketed up the country charts and continued their success with the release of 1999’s “Fly” which began to garner them even more mainstream attention as well as 2002’s “Home,” which made them international superstars. Their latest, “Taking the Long Way” was one of the few breakout hit albums of the year in a year when CD sales are down dramatically from years before.

I’ve never been a big country fan, specifically pop-country, but I have several friends that are and because of this have been introduced (or forced) to listen to the Chicks. I am thankful I have. From a country-outsiders point of view, I have been amazed at their growth as songwriters along their success. “Wide Open Spaces,” their first hit album is pretty much paint-by-numbers pop country. Pretty, twangy, with just enough sass to be labeled “spunky” but not obnoxious. I find it almost un-listenable. “Fly” is a step in the right direction, taking what worked for them in pop-country, yet their pro-feminist voices began to emerge in tracks like “Ready to Run,” “Goodbye Earl,” and “Sin Wagon.” It’s still a touch too “Yee-haw!” for me, but I began to realize these girls should be watched as they were doing things much more interesting than their contemporaries.

Things really hit er… home for me with the release of “Home” in 2002. With this record they ditched the pop sheen and went straight up bluegrass and happened to have their best batch of songs yet. True, they got some killer help by the likes of Patty Griffin & Radney Foster, but great songs like “White Trash Wedding” and “Tortured, Tangled Hearts” are all theirs. The only misstep, in my opinion, is their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” It’s one of my favorite songs, and at the time I argued that they didn’t understand it (which is obnoxious in retrospect, I know) but I felt their singing, especially paired with the image of them singing it as in the video, just didn’t hold the emotional weight that is in the song. Smashing Pumpkins got it right, there is real hurt there… I just didn’t hear it in the Chicks version.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that while on the European “Home” tour, Natalie made the off-hand comment that they were ashamed to be from Texas as it was the home state of president George W. Bush. Because of this, the Dixie Chicks found themselves public enemy #1 with a lot of country fans, who are mostly comprised of Republicans. The entire debacle was documented in the celebrated “Shut Up and Sing” by filmmaker Barbara Kopple & Cecilia Peck. While the incident did not crush their careers, it has dented their tour and CD sales by a certain margin for sure. It did not effect their creative powers any however, as “Taking the Long Way” is their best most assured release to date, and one of the best albums of 2006.

The Trailer for "Shut Up and Sing":

The Dixie Chicks wisely choose producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin for the album and he helped them mold their best songs and biggest statement to date. They did not shy away from speaking on the incident, with first single “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and stuck to the more classic country sound of “Home.” Oddly enough with the Dixie Chicks I tend to like their quiet ballads more… and I HATE ballads. But songs such as “Easy Silence” and “Everybody Knows” showcase their deft ability to slow down and let true emotions come across. Their stunners, as are the more upbeat songs such as “I Like It” and the stellar opener “The Long Way Around” which sums up who the chicks are and have always been… small town girls with big city dreams.

And maybe that’s why I love ‘em.


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