Thursday, June 12, 2008

Taking the Long Way


Band: The Dixie Chicks
Album: Taking the Long Way
Best song: "Not Ready to Make Nice" and "Long Way Around" are both great.
Worst song: "Baby Hold On" isn't great.

I've mentioned this before on my old site, but I'm not one for twang. My musical tastes were totally devoid of country until I got to college and even then, it was limited to Uncle Tupelo, Ryan Adams' first album and a Johnny Cash greatest hits package.

There are a myriad of reasons to this, most notably country never entering my life as a youth. My parents weaned me on the Beatles, Stones and the Who. There is a country music station in the Chicago area, but I never even knew about it until my sister later got into the genre. Even then, the American flag logo on their bumper stickers -- this was a time when the flag wasn't on everything -- turned me off.

Nevertheless, after being involved in my college station, I became more involved in country, alt-country and the like. I was introduced to KCOU favorites Uncle Tupelo and its offshoots Wilco and Son Volt. Cash started to release his American Recordings series. Hank Willims was standard at our station. Later, in doing my old site, I got into Loretta Lynne, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

What is known as popular country music is given absolutely no credit in most music circles. Like the religious vote in the 2000 election, popular country music is largely ignored by music critics, even in lieu of other popular music. The weight of the consumer base is discounted and, frankly, taken for granted.

I fall into the camp that never pays any attention to the country music crowd (the same crowd who also inhabit the religious voter group) even to this day. I just don't even listen to that stuff, though clearly it's no worse than the vast expanse of boring rock music shown on VH1 (Nickelback, Puddle of Mudd, Pete Yorn, etc.).

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Because of my aversion to country music, I always wrote the Dixie Chicks off. Even with the band's dustup with the president back in 2003, I only knew them as a country band who sorta didn't like the president. I knew some country fans were annoyed with them, but I didn't really follow the controversy closely.

This was until I saw Shut Up and Sing about two months ago. Wow. I did not know about the shitstorm that came about after lead singer Natalie Maines said. It wasn't just Toby Keith criticizing the band. Country music fans, apparently, freaked the hell out. Not only did they burn the band's albums, but they protested the band's concerts, eventually leading to their management canceling a bunch of the band's tour. The vast majority of country music stations banned the band's music.

This, of course, is nuts. Maines' London comments ("Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.") don't sound so crazy now, six years into the Iraq war, but even in 2003, free speech is free speech. Maines didn't say anything particularly bad. She's against the war and she doesn't like violence. That's nothing particularly shocking.

Which just brings around another point: I live in an echo chamber. I don't know anyone who would be offended by any of what she said.

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The documentary was the reason my interest in the Dixie Chicks piqued my interest. It shows the recording of the band's 2006 album, "Taking the Long Way." Specifically, the song "The Long Way Around" sounded great to me.

And it is a good song. It's full of harmonies, layered guitars, a banjo and a rousing melody. The song is as good as any pop song. It's pleasant and catchy. The song references the Byrds (the line "I wasn't born to follow" is the name of a Byrds song), the politically fallout and the band's unity. The beginning of the record is similarly pleasant; It falls between hook-laden and somber ballads. "Easy Silence" and "Bitter End" are of the latter, whle "Not Ready to Make Nice" is the most blatant song about the political fallout.

Rick Rubin produced the record and I'm generally a fan of Rubin's. Though, I'd suggest that "Taking the Long Way" is not really a classic Rubin record in that it's lushly produced.

The album's not great and the end gets a little repetitive and forgettable. I imagine this has something to do with my lack of knowledge of my genre, but it nevertheless is not a strong ending to the album.

Oddly enough, I still listen to the album, about six months after buying it. It's pleasant enough and those melodies are just ridiculously good. It was a worthwhile purchase and a worthwhile listen still.

1 comment:

musicobsessive said...

Hi. I absolutely agree with you here. I'm not a country fan by any means but I did go out and buy a couple of Dixie Chicks albums after the furore just to show some support. (Read about it at
http://mwarminger.blogspot.com/2007/09/reason-to-buy.html)

It seems that the free speech of the west is often only lip service after all and it sucks.

I thought the rendition of 'I'm not ready to make nice' at the Grammys was quite emotional...sniff!

Great Blog btw.