Dixie Chicks

From downtown Dallas street corners to round-the-world street fights, it'd be understatement by half to claim it's been a strange and surprising trip for sisters and Chicks founders Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, especially since it's the latecomer lead singer who got the band into trouble in the first place. Natalie Maines' Bush-bashing from a U.K. stage in 2003 instigated the trio's fourth disc, which backs down like a lion from the fight for which the Chicks have been aching since being branded traitors by their upscale-down-home base. If the song titles are a little too on-the-nose ("Not Ready to Make Nice," the urgh-inducing "Lubbock or Leave It") and the lyrics a little too back-pattingly nyah-nyah-nyah ("Wouldn't kiss all the asses they told me to"), at least they're meandering toward the outlaw brand rather than away from it. That said, the music still likes to play frilly dress-up; it's protest music dolled up in glam black leather and beauty-shop 'dos.

Even with the political sharing space with the awfully personal--"Silent House," about Maines' grandmother succumbing to Alzheimer's; "So Hard," about Maguire and Maines' difficulty conceiving; "Lullaby," a song for the kiddos--it doesn't take a Billboard bachelor's to figure this isn't going to get much play on country radio stations still slingin' ass-kickin' anthems about colors that don't run produced by assholes who can't sing. Besides, Taking the Long Way takes the short cut from classic-rock to folk-pop, which only means it splits the difference between Fleetwood Mac and Carole King. Of course, the Warrior Princess thing only gets you so far; hence the new producer (Rick Rubin, running out of hipster cachet after making coal with Neil Diamond), the new collaborators (some Heartbreakers, a Red Hot Chili Pepper, a Jayhawk and the dude from...Semisonic), the new sound and the new songs, which fight for their right to fight. Last I looked, no one was stopping them.


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