It didn’t exactly seem so at the time, but the Dixie Chicks were more punk rock than just about any band while Bush Jr. was in the White House. Sure they seemed like just another Saccharine Southern Country band from Texas when their major label debut “Wide Open Spaces” came out in 1998, but soon after they would start to show an admirable “Screw it, we’re going to speak our minds” attitude that cost them a lot of casual fans, but proved they were sincere artists standing on principle.
Thanks to Legacy Records, their last four studio albums are available on vinyl (2002’s “Home” was the only one available on wax before now). The re-release is a reminder of just how ahead of their time the band was. The wildly popular “Wide Open Spaces,” the band’s first with Natalie Maines on vocals, went on to sell 14 million copies and earned two Grammys (including Best Country Album). While the subject matter didn’t stray wildly from topics typical of that genre the band was able to blend Bluegrass effortlessly into their sound (a trend that would catch up with pop music about a decade later). The album spawned five singles, the biggest being the self-titled track and “You Were Mine,” among the strongest. But it was their second effort, 1999’s “Fly” that the band really came into its own and faced their first bit of backlash with “Goodbye Earle,” a smart, catchy song about an abusive husband who was killed by his wife and her best friend. Country radio stations have always been criticized for playing it safe and avoiding any hint of controversy, but it was still puzzling that many stations opted not to play this song (were they afraid of offending abusive spouses?). Well, fuck ‘em, fans still dug it and it went on to become one the band’s best known songs and a concert staple. The album, even better than their last, sold 10 million copies and earned them a couple more Grammys.
With their next album, “Home,” the Dixie Chicks opted for a less obvious pop sound and a deeper dive into their Bluegrass roots (more fiddle and banjo), which ultimately lost them some fans, but ends up being a much stronger album, musically, than “Wide Open Spaces” and “Fly.” Along with a beautiful Stevie Nicks cover (“Landslide,” arguable one of the best renditions of the oft covered song), the album holds a few other gems like the quirky “White Trash Wedding.” While promoting the album at a London concert in 2003, just weeks before the U.S. started bombing Iraq and kicked off a disastrous war in the Middle East, Maines made the comment “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Country radio, many of their fans and the right wing collectively lost their shit over that statement and stations that had been playing the band’s music non-stop for the past few years, started hosting publicity events where they destroyed Dixie Chicks CDs. As a result, one of the band’s strongest albums only sold six million (I realize it’s ridiculous to preference the phrase “sold 6 million” with the word “only,” but it’s clear that the conservative pearl clutching over Maines pretty apt comments about the war killed the albums momentum.
The Dixie Chicks’ last studio album, “Taking the Long Way,” came out 10 years ago, but still sounds as relevant today as in 2006. Pretty much abandoned by the traditional country music industry and radio that once fawned over them, the band was embraced by the more progressive (politically and musically) alternative country scene and it shows on the record. Produced by Rick Rubin, it’s less slick and commercial and their best album to date. The band is more confident and satisfyingly defiant on songs like “Not Ready to Make Nice” and the beautiful title track. While selling far less than its predecessors, (it went on to sell 2.5 million copies), it remains a fantastic swan song for a band that will hopefully come back at some point.
The re-releases have all been remastered and are pressed on 150-gram vinyl.
Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces; Fly; Home; Taking the Long Way/2016/Columbia & Legacy