Sunday, May 12, 2013


The last Dixie Chicks album was a long seven years ago -- the fantastic, no-compromise, Grammy Award sweeping Taking The Long Way. In 2010, two of them, sisters Emily Robison & Martie Maguire, made new music under the name, Court Yard Hounds, with Robison taking lead vocals for the first time. Meanwhile, Natalie Maines had been busy involving herself in the West Memphis Three case with other like-minded artists. This year she is back in the limelight with a new collection of mainly covers and a few originals. It's no surprise that she would do a record of her own eventually. Co-produced with Ben Harper, this is a mainly straight-up rock album that tackles more serious issues. It's kind of a mixed bag however.  

Without You is an Eddie Vedder ukelele song, and despite the new dense instrumentation, it still sounds a tad uninspired; the tenderness from the original is stripped away. Maines sings well on the title track, giving the 'mother' character more sympathy than the Pink Floyd version, but to my ears, it sounds as if she's just singing for the sake of singing. That 'soul' is missing. The two better covers more suited for her would be Silver Bell (Patty Griffin) and the Jayhawks' classic, I'd Run Away. But obviously the one that takes the top spot is Jeff Buckley's finest moment, Lover You Should've Come Over. It's a tough one to tackle, but Natalie fully understands how to approach it with her powerhouse vocal ability, and she does it with absolute grace and beauty. It's the kind of song where it's easy to over-sing , though she restraints herself from doing so.

It's mostly the original tunes which bear repeated listening. There's a non-country 'outtake' originally meant for inclusion in Taking The Long Way, Come Cryin' To Me, in which the group co-wrote with Jayhawks' Gary Louris. Listening to it makes me miss those trio harmonies. Trained is a Harper-penned hard rocking blues song right up his alley, not so much Natalie's. The two she co-wrote with Ben: a slow-grooving soulful Vein In Vein that somehow reminds me of Stephen Stills' So Many Times, minus the pedal steel, and the excellent contemplative closer, Take It On Faith. The best one has got to be Free Life, written by musician and past Dixie Chicks collaborator, Dan Wilson. It's a gorgeous, heartfelt call-to-action with an anthemic quality to it, about being true to yourself and being able to do what's right in life. It's also one of the best things she's ever sung in her career.