Taking the Long Way [CD/DVD]
Bitter, defiant, resilient, vulnerable, confused -- the Dixie Chicks have emerged from their own Bush maelstrom with body and soul intact, if dented. At least five songs (possibly more, depending on interpretation) on this Rick Rubin-produced disc address the fury that descended upon the group when Natalie Maines mentioned, on the eve of the U.S. offensive in Iraq, that she was ashamed that the president was from her native Texas; and the music fueling these songs is appropriately angry, edgy, and driving. Rubin dresses up the arrangements with orchestral surges from the Beatles' stylebook, replete with ethereal, Enya-like chanting background voices and a Spectorian wall of electric and acoustic guitars, banjos, fiddles, and pianos. Maines, meanwhile, reasserts herself as one of the great vocalists of her time, bringing it all home with committed, deeply emotional leads that flaunt her ease with styles ranging from country-rock to contemporary rock balladry to southern soul, whether she's belting out a tear-stained howl in "Voice Inside My Head" or tenderly caressing a sensitive lyric of love and devotion, as on "Lullaby." The songs are uniformly affecting, be they full of fury (the in-your-face "Not Ready to Make Nice") or deeply felt romantic anguish (the atmospheric, late-era Beatles-like "Silent House"), and are all originals, with co-writing help from the likes of Neil Finn, Sheryl Crow (the winsome reflection "Favorite Year"), Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, Semisonic's Dan Wilson, and, best of all, Keb' Mo', who assists in a terrific slice of laid-back southern gospel soul, "I Hope," which closes the album on a positive, upbeat note. For all the hoopla about the Chicks leaving country, Taking the Long Way sounds like a natural progression, not a forced retreat. It's a complete triumph.