Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way

Dixie Chicks
Taking the Long Way

(Open Wide/Columbia)

First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2006, Volume 13, #7

Written by John Metzger

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Considering the overwhelming success that the Dixie Chicks had during the early portion of its career, itís hard to imagine that the trio of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Martie Maguire is now playing the role of the underdog. Yet, after Maines told a London audience that she was ashamed that President Bush also called Texas his home, the usual suspects of conservative talking heads whipped their fanatical followers into a frenzy, causing a backlash among the bandís American fans as well as a boycott of sorts by some commercial radio stations. It didnít matter if country music always had been too confining for the ensemble ó both Fly and Wide Open Spaces were shaded heavily by pop and rock, and even its return to more traditional fare on 2003ís Home featured a cover of Stevie Nicksí Landslide ó it now had no choice but to look elsewhere for a way to grow its audience.

Enlisting the help of veteran producer Rick Rubin, who successfully reinvented both Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash, and calling upon a cadre of songwriters (Semisonicís Dan Wilson, The Jayhawksí Gary Louris, Crowded Houseís Neil Finn, Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, and Kebí Moí) to help shape the material, the Dixie Chicks jettisoned the bluegrass textures that pervaded Home in favor of the pop-oriented melodies that cling to Taking the Long Way. As its title suggests, this change in direction is something towards which the ensemble had been working steadily for some time, but its journey has been anything but easy. In fact, a case could be made that the group was forced to make a leap for which it wasnít quite prepared, and as a result, the collection canít help but to feel transitional as the trio applies an array of new textures to its songs in an effort to determine what works and what doesnít.

Given everything that the Dixie Chicks has been through in recent years, it isnít surprising that lyrically there is an air of defiance that flows through Taking the Long Way, and it resonates most prominently during the feisty Lubbock or Leave It as well as the slow-building fury of Not Ready to Make Nice. Nevertheless, thereís plenty of frustration, sorrow, and regret tucked into the collectionís nooks and crannies, too, and even when the trio tries to escape its fate by delving into affairs of the heart, the songs seem to circle back to address the bandís current plight. "We search for someone else to blame/But sometimes things canít stay the same," sings Natalie Maines on Favorite Year, presumably to a former lover, yet given the tone of the album, itís impossible not to pin her sentiments onto a more worldly lapel.

The problem, however, is that over the course of its 14 tracks, Taking the Long Way develops a persona that not only is too musically sterile to match the raw emotion contained in the Dixie Chicksí lyrics, but also is too enslaved by its ruminations upon a single experience for the outing to feel effortless. Although it begins and ends strongly ó with The Long Way Aroundís bubbly blend of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, and The Byrds and I Hopeís gospel-blues plea for reconciliation and mutual respect ó the album ultimately becomes bogged down under the weight of a few too many generically-inclined, roots-oriented ballads. Sounding like everyone but itself ó from Alison Krauss to Sheryl Crow, from the Indigo Girls to Bonnie Raitt ó the Dixie Chicks fails to stake out its own turf, and in effect, its transformation into something other than what it was is far more tentative than it ought to have been. Save for the two tracks (Not Ready to Make Nice, Lubbock or Leave It) on which the groupís anger bubbles over into its music, the Dixie Chicks doesnít yet sound completely at home within its new surroundings. bulletbulletbullet

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49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Record of the Year
Not Ready to Make Nice

49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Album of the Year

49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Song of the Year
Not Ready to Make Nice

49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal
Not Ready to Make Nice

49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Country Album

49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
Rick Rubin

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Of Further Interest...

Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave

Kasey Chambers - Carnival

Keith Urban - Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing

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Taking the Long Way is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2006 The Music Box