Home Free

Onstage and off, the Dixie Chicks changed the way they do business

"I definitely think our song choices have matured a little bit," Maguire says. "We're not singing about male-bashing. We're singing about love, more mature concepts. I'm really glad we went in this direction. That's what we needed to keep ourselves inspired. I wouldn't have been in the mind-set to do another Fly."

Yet if you listen closely enough, and you'll have to, the trio that recorded Home is the same one present on Wide Open Spaces and Fly. "It sounds like us," Robison says of Home. "It's not like we've added something that changes the essence of who we are." She's right: Robison and Maguire could always play with the best of them, and Maines' voice usually muscled its way to the surface, no matter how many tracks producers Blake Chancey and Paul Worley (who recorded Fly and Wide Open Spaces) stacked on top of it. But they always had to work too hard to be heard. It was like Chancey and Worley were given the keys to a brand-new Corvette, then decided to lock it up in the garage. With Natalie's father at the board, Maines, Maguire and Robison were allowed to take it for a spin.

"It was nice to be back in the studio where you know your part wasn't necessarily going to be buried amongst drums and keyboards and all that sort of stuff," Robison admits. "Knowing it was gonna be fairly raw."

They settled with Sony, but the Dixie Chicks--from left, 
Emily Robison, Martie Maguire and Natalie Maines--are 
still pushing for change.
James Minchin
They settled with Sony, but the Dixie Chicks--from left, Emily Robison, Martie Maguire and Natalie Maines--are still pushing for change.
On Home, the Dixie Chicks found a new kind of 
wide-open spaces.
James Minchin
On Home, the Dixie Chicks found a new kind of wide-open spaces.

At times, Home is almost painfully raw. When Maines' voice drops to a whisper in "Travelin' Soldier" (written by Robison's brother-in-law, Bruce), your eyes well up; after Maguire's violin solo on "Top of the World," the tear rolls down your cheek. With nothing else battling for top billing, Maines' voice is as powerful as fire and as delicate as smoke, and Robison and Maguire serve as comely complements (especially on the tissue-tempting "I Believe in Love"), joining her for three-part harmony instead of two-part backup. And they play the strings off their instruments, too, just as they did when they were stuck in shiny Halloween costumes and thanking heavens for Dale Evans. It's the album they should have made as soon as Sony signed them, and paradoxically, one they couldn't make until now.

"I think that the first two definitely helped them get to a level where they can pretty much do what they want to," Lloyd Maines says. "I think that they had to have the commercial appeal established and the radio play and all that established before they ventured off on something as different as this."

Sony had no idea just how different that would be. "They heard nothing," Natalie says with a laugh. And when they did? "Well, they loved it. I think that's what moved along the contracts. They knew that the music was ready and they had something to sell. It sort of lit the fire to negotiate and work out a deal. I think they were relieved, because it was out that we were making a bluegrass record, and it's not really what it turned out to be. I think it was a lot more commercial"--she laughs again--"than they thought."

The numbers back that up: Six weeks after its release, Home remained near the top of the charts, coming in at No. 5, and will likely stay there for the rest of the year.

"That's what you hope for," Maines says. "I mean, we felt strongly about this record, but it was all still kind of scary, because we didn't know how everyone else would feel about it. We knew, at that point, that the critics were liking it, because a lot of reviews and things had come out. But, um, we just had no idea how it would go over with the fans."

"Our true fans won't go anywhere," Maguire adds. "Hopefully they will be open-minded towards how we are growing as musicians and as women."

Maybe Sony will, too. Maines says she never had a problem with "the machine at Sony," the marketing and promotion departments that pushed Fly and Wide Open Spaces in front of so many eyes and ears; the Chicks' beef was with the payroll people. But she admits to mixed feelings about the settlement. They're happy with their new contract, but did they do enough for the industry? Did holstering their guns mean some other artist will be taken down in the line of duty?

"We wouldn't have settled, but..." She trails off, trying to find the right words. "You know, I think we set out to sort of make a difference in the entire music industry. And at first I didn't think we had done that. And now, Martie just went to these hearings in Sacramento, and we've been to them before, and she's just saying that the vibe in the courtroom is that things are going to change. You know, I don't know how much we had to do with that. Hopefully, with our ongoing support on the RAC and for artists' rights, we can have a hand in at least supporting some changes in our industry. But you know, in our contract, we'd hoped to have, 'You can never put this in anybody's contract ever again.'" She laughs at the foolish, if admirable, goal. "It was higher hopes. We can't, you know; we're three individuals who're taking on not only Sony Music, but the way that the entire record industry is run. So we couldn't do all of that."

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