Well, talk about worth the wait. The Chicks have been involved in a long dispute over royalties with their record label, Sony, which kept them off the stage and out of the recording studio for a year. They came to an agreement in June, promising them a bigger slice of the pie, which will be a very big slice indeed if Home replicates the success of the last two albums, Fly (1999) and Wide Open Spaces (1998), which have combined sales of 19 million.
The catchy opening track "Long Time Gone" shows them wasting no time in taking a neatly worded sideswipe at today's country music industry, "They sound tired but they don't sound Haggard/ they got money but they don't have Cash/ they have junior but they don't have Hank/ I think, I think, I think the rest is long time gone". It's easy to sit back and criticise, but the Dixie Chicks take the harder route and lead the "real country" fight back by example, making powerful bluegrass-inspired country music of a standard that everyone else should aspire to.
The songs on Home have come from some very high calibre songwriters. Treats include the old Fleetwood Mac number and the Chicks' next single, "Landslide", Patty Griffin's "Truth No. 2", which is great for its rousing bassline and deft key changes, and "Godspeed", the sweet lullaby by Radney Foster with Emmylou Harris contributing additional vocals. Then there's "Travelin' Soldier", written by Emily Robison's brother-in-law Bruce Robison, which has been stuck in my head since I saw the Chicks perform it at last year's CMA Awards show. The sad tale of a girl who falls in love with a boy who is never to return from Vietnam, complete with soaring harmonies and drowsy accordion makes for a haunting combination.
High-speed fun is to be found in "White Trash Wedding", one of the songs written by the trio. "You can't afford no ring/ I shouldn't be wearing white and you can't afford no ring!" hollers Natalie Maines, accompanied by typically blistering performances from band members Emily Robison (banjo) and Martie Maguire (fiddle) and session musicians Bryan Sutton (guitar) and Adam Steffey (mandolin). Of equal face-slapping velocity is Lil' Jack Slade, written for Natalie's son and featuring the increasingly-ubiquitous mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile.
Album of the year.
A big thank you to BBC Country for this review. Don't forget to visit their site for more reviews of the latest country albums, features, news, tour dates and competitions. --Sue Keogh
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DIXIE CHICKS Home (2003 UK issue of the 12-track debut CD album on the Dixies own record label Open Wide. This album keeps it strictly acoustic in what has been described as a big Texas howdy to bluegrass. Includes a cover of Stevie Nicks Landslide featuring Sheryl Crow. With picture sleeve and colour lyric booklet in a stickered jewel case)