Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way (2006)
purchase this album (Amazon)
I’m no big fan of the Dixie Chicks, or of country music in general — in fact, during my “recording artist” days, I even demoed a (blessedly unreleased) song titled “(Stop Playing That) Damn Country Music” — but given all the bullshit that’s been slung in the Chicks’ direction over the last few years, I think it’s the duty of thinking music bloggers everywhere to try and divert as much coin as possible toward this album, so here we are.
I’m not interested in debating the merits of our current administration, but I think the subject of performing artists expressing political views is worth some discussion. Like most of you, I suspect, I’ve had moments of annoyance when I’ve felt ambushed by this or that grandstanding actor or musician — wanted him or her to just shut up and entertain me, rather than trying to educate me about the issues of the day. So I can understand where all the indignation comes from whenever the chorus of “Shut up, Sean Penn!” or “Shut up, Tim Robbins!” or (especially) “Shut up, Barbra Streisand!” arises from this great nation’s mindlessly flapping, puffed-up right wing.
But still. I do my best not to let my history degree show here, but the fact remains, this is a country founded (in theory, anyway) on the principle of widespread involvement in political affairs — the idea that everybody should be aware of what’s going on, and that they should be talking about it. What they do for a living or what sort of platform they’re lucky enough to be standing on shouldn’t matter.
I’m probably preaching to the choir here, and that’s good.
Of course, Natalie Maines wasn’t really making intelligent political commentary when she said she was ashamed to share a state with the current occupant of the White House, and attacking any American president while the country is excited about a shiny new war has always been a foolhardy proposition, but the fact that this “controversy” is still being discussed in 2006 (have you seen the cover of Time this week? Sheesh) is more than a little ridiculous.
Which leads us up to Taking the Long Way. Conventional wisdom about the post-”controversy” Chicks was that their hardcore country audience had deserted them, and that with their next album, they’d be moving into pop/rock territory. Their choice of Rick Rubin as Long Way’s producer seemed to lend this theory credence (despite Rubin’s country credentials). And now that the album’s out, a lot is being said about the trio’s pop collaborators — which include Keb’ Mo’, Dan “I used to be in Semisonic” Wilson, Sheryl Crow, Gary Louris, and Neil Finn(!) — but the truth is, cover photo aside, these songs really don’t represent the farewell-to-country crossover predicted by so many.
What they do represent is impeccable craft, in every area that matters. Great, catchy songs; flawless performances; top-notch production from Rubin (again). Whether you think of yourself as a country music fan or not, do yourself a favor and check this record out. Start with “The Long Way Around” (download) and “Lullaby” (download).