Monday, April 17, 2006

Dixie Chicks Redux

A couple of years ago Natalie Maines started a fire storm in country music when she made her feelings about George W. Bush public on stage at a London concert. Redneck myopia prevailed and the Dixie Chicks became pariahs within their defined niche of country music. Stores pulled their records, radio stations stopped playing their songs and country music morons like Toby Keith piled on and reaped huge profits by exploiting the pseudo patriotic sub-genre that was setting the country charts afire.

After apologizing for choosing such a strongly worded condemnation of George W. Bush and expressing her concerns overseas, Natalie made it clear that she was not a Bush supporter and refused to back down from her statements. Her only regret was being disrespectful. Clarifying that point only made matters worse. The girls fired back at other performers, but eventually they disappeared from view and remained largely forgotten. They performed a few benefits and released a few stray songs, but for the most part they seemed to be on their way out.

Until now. The Chicks have returned with a powerful single Not Ready to make Nice from their latest album Taking the Long Way. The song is a departure from their bluegrass roots, embracing complex the complex musical arrangements of a pop power ballad. It's a sweeping musical score that revisits the political controversy and addresses critics with blunt indignation. Natalie makes it clear that she sees no reason to apologize for speaking her mind. The song conveys the pain the Dixie Chicks endured in receiving death threats from angry anti-fans.

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don'’t mind sayin’
It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

While American Country Music stations aren't embracing the song just yet, it is a hit on Canadian stations and has piqued the interests of American pop music fans. The video has appeared on VH-1 and will eventually claw its way into the V-Spot Top 20 countdown. The Dixie Chicks enjoyed a little crossover success when they covered Stevie Nicks' Landslide, and it would appear that Not Ready to Make Nice has been engineered to appeal to the much broader and more accepting pop audience. Maines has softened her twangy trailer park drawl and replaced it with a folksy vocal delivery that has country roots without being trashy. It's clear that the Dixie Chicks are ready to explore a new market for their music.

Some purists will knock them for cleaning up their image and catering to the pop market. Many will claim that this proves how wrong the Dixie Chicks were for taking an anti-war stance, but with pop artists typically doubling or tripling the sales of country performers is it really an example of a group hiding from their past or is it more likely an example of three women simply out growing a petty audience? Is it selling out, or moving up?

Regardless, the Dixie Chicks have struck back. Not Ready to Make Nice is a fantastic song with a powerful message. It has lyrical and musical depth. Even if Country fans aren't ready to accept the Dixie Chicks for speaking their minds, the pop charts will provide wide open spaces for these girls to make it big. Rednecks might have enjoyed a good chuckle when they were gleefully bulldozing stacks of Dixie Chicks records, but Natalie Maines and the girls will be having the last laugh.

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