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Tough chicks

If you thought the Dixie Chicks were pissed when they declared onstage that they were “ashamed the president is from Texas,” then you ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s been four years since label disputes produced Home and three years since many of their fans turned their backs on them, and yet, in the interim, rather than find their fire fading, they seem to have fanned the flames. After years of producing fluffy, albeit ballsy country, they’ve switched labels and returned with Taking the Long Way, a deeply autobiographical manifesto of independence and (somewhat veiled) antipathy for Red America.

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That’s right: Rather than lick their wounds and sneak their way back into country music’s good graces, the Chicks come out swinging with a Rick Rubin-shaped bat. The eclectic producer guides the Chicks through 14 tracks of songs penned by the trio, though they get a lot of help from friends like Sheryl Crow, Linda Perry, and Neil Finn.

“The Long Way Around” opens the onslaught with Natalie Maines singing about hitting the road like a gypsy in a pink RV. Pretty innocuous, sure, but, by the third verse, she’s put it out there: “It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down.”

The gospel-rock “I Hope” closes the proceedings with beautiful optimism, looking forward to the change that will make the rest of the album nothing more than a footnote in history - the Chicks’ and the US - but to get there we get attacks against Maines’ hometown (“Lubbock or Leave It”) and odes to the refuge she found during the post-Incident shitstorm (“Easy Silence”), but it’s “Not Ready to Make Nice” that is the album’s centerpiece.

“It’s too late to make it right, I probably wouldn’t if I could,” Maines sings of the Incident. But it’s when she reveals that, “It turned my whole world around/And I kind of like it/I made my bed and I sleep like a baby,” that you really get how much she’s embraced her new role. But that’s not enough. She has to go after the conservative hypocrites who came after her, too: “How in the world can the words that I said/Send somebody so over the edge that they write me a letter/Saying that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over.”

It might just be — and this is without exaggeration — the purest country song of the new millennium.

- Cole Haddon


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