Thirty tracks that are funny, melancholic, thoughtful and, alright, just a bit angry.
Nick Barraclough 2010-11-10
No band was more essential to country music in the late 1990s than the Dixie Chicks. The tired, predictable format was desperate for something fresh and Martie Maguire, Emily Robison and Natalie Maines provided it. They were the real thing: Maguire and Robison were bluegrass instrumentalists, and good ones, while Maines had the voice of a honky-tonk angel.
Their early songs ranged from Tonight the Heartache’s on Me, straight Texas country, to the bluegrass-inspired Sin Wagon and anti-spousal abuse number Goodbye Earl, in which Earl is happily done away with by the victim’s girlfriends. And in many ways it is that song that encapsulated the Chicks. You got the feeling they were a close, tight unit. And they did have an attitude, but it was an attitude the country establishment loved. They were young, good-looking, talented, innovative, fun; they sold massive amounts, topping charts and winning several awards.
Until April 2003, that is. During a performance at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Maines told the audience she was ashamed President Bush was from their home state of Texas. Those there that night roared their approval. Nashville, though, was apoplectic.
You don’t do that in Nashville. Paradoxically, America’s "Music of the People" is these days run through with the strictest of Republican tenets. While Richard Nixon was in his darkest days of Watergate, in March 1974 the Grand Ol’ Opry invited him along and he played piano and sang Happy Birthday to Roy Acuff who responded by saying, "He is a real trouper, as well as one of our finest Presidents. You are a great man. We love you."
No, what Nashville wanted, as Iraq was about to be invaded, was the likes of the absurd Toby Keith, whose coarse jingoism they found more to their taste. Subsequently, Dixie Chicks were all but shut down. But the more enlightened voters at the Grammys, not unaware of the significance, have since presented them with several awards, including Best Country Album for 2006’s Taking the Long Way Home. The album made the band’s unrepentant attitude clear: its first single was the unambiguously titled Not Ready to Make Nice.
It is a shame that those who claimed they stood up for free speech ultimately couldn’t cope with the Chicks’ viewpoints, because despite their refusal to apologise for rocking the establishment – and their subsequent vindication – a bitterness crept in to the trio’s music, taking away some of the charm that had made them so irresistible. Still, this is an excellent compilation: 30 tracks that are funny, melancholic, thoughtful and, alright, just a bit angry.