Here's something we never thought we'd say: We've heard the new Dixie Chicks album, and it's good. Maybe great. Not sure, since we only heard it once, not near enough times to load it onto our mental six-CD changer. (Won't pin down the means or location, because Sony seems fairly protective of the disc, titled Home, and, breaking from our usual strategy, we don't wanna get anyone in trouble.) One sitting with the record, however, was enough to make us want to spend more time with it, take it for a spin or three or 30, hold its hand, maybe introduce it to our parents. We're clutching the fragments we can remember between tight fists, trying to keep it in our heads, even as another note or two leaks out every day.
Can't stress this enough: No one's more surprised than we are. You could say the most time we spent in close proximity to the Chicks' previous two albums, 1998's Wide Open Spaces and 1999's Fly, came when delivering them, along with a few dozen of their similarly unwanted sisters and brothers, to the adoption agency we like to refer to as CD Source. We won't say it, but you definitely could. Those discs were like a supermodel who decides to get a face-lift and a boob job, unnecessary improvements hiding a natural beauty to the point where it becomes little more than a rumor. Which doesn't mean we were that infatuated with the trio of albums that preceded them (Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, Little Ol' Cowgirl and Shouldn't a Told You That), all recorded before singer Natalie Maines joined the group. Back then, the songs were authentic but more than a little corny, kind of like one of those Wild West six-shooter showdowns at Six Flags.
In the months prior, the new album (due August 27) was said to be either a return to the group's Deep Ellum street-corner roots and/or a clever capitalization on the surprise success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Not true. Not entirely. More than anything else, it splits the difference between the first incarnation of the group and the second, Maines' newly amazing voice bridging the gap. (Maybe motherhood has changed her, or maybe heavy-handed producer Blake Chancey was always burying it.) Produced by the band and Natalie's pop, Lloyd Maines, Home (set for release on Open Wide Records, the sub-label the group received after settling its lawsuit with Sony) is traditional and timely, down-home and uptown all at once, the back porch of a penthouse. Which is what Wide Open Spaces and Fly should have been, but sadly weren't. One other change: You can actually hear sisters Marty Maguire and Emily Robison playing their instruments (and quite well, of course), a fact that, previously, could only be verified by checking the liner notes.
Given all of the above, there are plenty of highlights: Patty Griffin's "Truth #2" and "Top of the World," both recorded for an album Griffin recorded for A&M that was never released; Radney Foster's tender "Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)," a song Foster wrote for his son Jule that turned up previously on his 1999 disc See What You Want to See; Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" (from Fleetwood Mac's 1975 eponymous effort), a stop-everything version the Chicks debuted on VH1's Divas Las Vegas special. "White Trash Wedding" may be the best song on Home, and if it's not, it's certainly the most fun, kicking off like a reprise of the song Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch contributed to O Brother, before jumping on a riding lawn mower through the bluegrass. Best line: "I shouldn't be wearing white and you can't afford no ring." We'll prolly have more to say, but we'll wait until we go Home again...
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KDGE-FM's The Adventure Club celebrates eight years in the specialty-show biz on July 27 with a shindig at Trees featuring Ash, Spoon's Britt Daniel, The Fitz, Macavity, Lucy Loves Schroeder, Sand Which Is, Little Grizzly and between-set DJ Peter Schmidt of Legendary Crystal Chandelier. Given the occasion, we're reminded of the first time we met host Josh Venable, who was then sharing the mike with Keven McAlester, former music editor at The Met and currently wrapping up a documentary on Roky Erickson. It was at South by Southwest in Austin in 1995, back when we were attending the University of Texas at Austin. Venable went to high school in Grapevine with the guy who lived across the hall from us in the dorm, so he was staying there during the fest. Not long after he arrived, we heard a knock on the door; it was Venable, then the distinguished owner of a Morrissey-like coif, looking for a hair dryer to aid him in the construction of said hair helmet. Somewhere in there, he convinced us to don a suit and head down to The Steamboat to check out Hagfish, and somehow, we ended up in a Jackopierce video. Pointless story, we know. Some things have changed since then: Venable doesn't have much hair to speak of anymore, and he's been running the AC solo for some time. Some have not: He's still convincing us to do things we don't necessarily want to do (wearing a suit in Texas should be reserved for weddings and funerals), but he shouldn't have to convince you to check out the bill he's assembled for his show's birthday party. Tickets are still available; get 'em while you can.