By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Not that I'd have wanted such questions to dominate. The angriest songs on the Chicks' new Taking the Long Way are the best; "Not Ready to Make Nice," the crucial first single, reminds us the fight's not over. But the heart of the album is the subtly ambitious second half. The styles are familiar enoughEagles and Beatles, Sheryl Crow, Martha & the Vandellasand the idea of mixing styles and singing them gently is right out of the early '70s. What's very '00s, though, is how much the Chicks pack in, vocals piling one atop the other, instruments crowding around but each moving in a somewhat different direction. And occasionally, in the more personal lyrics, there's an intellectual restlessness to match the musical one. In "Voice Inside My Head," Natalie sings, "I want/I need/Somehow to believe in the choice I made and I'm better off this way"that is, better off with the husband and child she has rather than with the man she threw over 10 years ago. But the song gives us two Natalies, one as she is and one imagining she could have been someone different. What would have happened if the Chicks had a similar double view toward the political events that engulfed them?
Country music itself has a double view: first, that the world is right and that our values are four-square, even if as individuals we struggle and cheat and damage each other and screw up; and second, that our world is going under, taken down by those who buy us out and belittle us. And we secretly buy into our own inferiority. The Dixie Chicks rose above this by representing a blonde girl-power glamour while playing a country music that felt liberated and guilt-free. 'Cept underneath this was the sense that they were just playing country rather than being country, and this was part of their appeal, representing country's noncountry urges. Now, in the statement that set the rage fires burning, the Chicks weren't literally saying they were ashamed of Texas, but that's what it comes down to: Texas is responsible for nurturing Bush, and Bush is something to be ashamed of. And with Texas comes the whole South, and the country audience in general, who took it personally and went nutso. Of course, that audience was being chickenshit for then ostracizing, rather than engaging, the Chicks. But to engage would mean acknowledging the insecurity and shame.
This album may be the Dixie Chicks' best. Still, an opportunity feels lost. At this point, there's no way for them to communicate with their detractors, but I wish they'd felt their way into their detractors' innards.
The Dixie Chicks play Madison Square Garden Tuesday at 7:30, $40$90, thegarden.com.