June 2, 2010
For those of us who were living and breathing country fans from 1998 to 2006, the idea of a Dixie Chicks compilation is unnecessary. Some of us have all four albums and listen to them in different proportions, while a fairly large part of their audience haven’t bothered with them since 2003.
But Playlist, the first compilation of the Natalie Maines-helmed era of the band, is the only career-spanning introduction for those who may be discovering them for the first time. Don’t let its existence as part of an established budget line fool you, either. The twelve tracks found on this collection were picked by the Chicks themselves, not a record executive or chart history buff.
All four of the Chicks albums are critically acclaimed and were commercially successful. Heck, all four of them won the Grammy for Best Country Album to boot. So my instinct is to call this the best case for just buying the original albums since the first Emmylou Harris hits set. But I say this as someone who would reflexively tell listeners to buy Home and Taking the Long Way first, and I know of several country music fans and journalists who would swap out one or both of those titles in favor of Wide Open Spaces and Fly.
So the beauty of this set is that it picks a handful of tracks from each album that are truly representative of each set. The Chicks made four very different albums. Wide Open Spaces, a debut set that seemed bold at the time but is almost quaint in its conventionalism today, is represented by the title track and “You Were Mine”, two #1 hits that are easily the strongest of the five singles from that album.
The selections from Fly are where things get interesting. That album produced seven top twenty hits, but only one of them is here: the #1 hit “Cowboy Take Me Away.” While a case could be made for including “Goodbye Earl” as well, the set is stronger for including their tender cover of Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly” and the fearless “Sin Wagon”, which is the best pre-Home showcase of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison’s jaw-dropping instrumental prowess.
Home is their best album to date, and while I miss the absent “Travelin’ Soldier” and “Top of the World”, the inclusion of Griffin’s “Truth No. 2″ alongside smash hits “Long Time Gone” and “Landslide” is fair compensation. And while Taking the Long Way produced only one big hit, “Not Ready to Make Nice”, it is joined by three more great autobiographical hits that should’ve been: “The Long Way Around”, “Easy Silence”, and “Lubbock or Leave It.”
Is it a perfect collection? No. But it’s close enough, and a much better reflection of the band’s best work than a traditional hits collection could ever be. If you’re looking for a strong introduction to the most talented and successful country band of the past 25 years, this is the place to start.