Album and Film Review: Dixie Chicks, DCX MMXVI

Dixie Chicks
DCX MMXVI

Album:

Film:

One of the most revelatory discoveries when the Dixie Chicks toured the United States for the first time in ten years was that they had never sounded better.

Was it really ten years ago that the Grammy-sweeping Taking the Long Way and its accompanying tour doubled as both their victorious comeback and their undeclared swansong? Aside from the timely covers of Prince, Beyonce, and Patty Griffin, the set list for MMXVI could have been the same ten years ago.

But like those confident covers indicated on last year’s tour, which has been documented so accurately on both album and film, the band has completely shaken off the turmoil that surrounded their return to the national music scene after they were exiled from country radio and the industry that surrounds it. You could still feel the jilted lover aura in the air when they toured Taking the Long Way as a new album, and their struggle to balance their hitmaking legacy with their more recent and more personal material in a way that would satisfy both the band and their audience.

Ten years later, having not released anything new since, the Dixie Chicks have a stronger handle on their legacy and their audience. “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the emotional peak of their Accidents & Accusations Tour that came far too early in the set list, has claimed its rightful place as their encore and signature song. Tracks from Home and Taking the Long Way dominate the proceedings here, and rightfully so. Those two albums contain their strongest and most personal material, and fans react with enthusiasm for “Truth No. 2,” “Top of the World,” and “Lubbock or Leave it” as if they were #1 hits.  Resurrecting actual chart hits like “There’s Your Trouble” and “I Can Love You Better” would have both the audience and the band checking their watches until they were over.

That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of hits in this show.  But with the exception of “Wide Open Spaces,” they all come from Fly (“Ready to Run,” “Cowboy Take Me Away,” “Goodbye Earl”) and Home (“Long Time Gone,” “Landslide,” “Travelin’ Soldier.”) Some are played in a way similar to the record, while others are given fresh reinventions, particularly “Long Time Gone,” which has more in common with New Orleans than Austin in its reincarnation.

The film gets the edge over the album for two reasons. First, it includes all of the stage banter that is oddly left out of the CD version and is greatly missed. Natalie Maines is as great on the mic when she’s talking as she is when she’s singing, and their cover of Patty Griffin’s “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” is prefaced by a hilarious audience interaction story that I wont’ spoil here.  Second, director Sophie Muller filmed the show flawlessly. The last Chicks live DVD had rapid, disorienting cuts. This one has long cuts that linger on the band, while also capturing how fans are reacting to the music.  Muller recreates the experience of attending the MMXVI tour better than most films I’ve seen of shows I’ve also attended. (Madonna needs to hire her.)

Country Universe launched thirteen years ago in the wake of the Chicks backlash and largely inspired by it. At the time, I was concerned that the genre would never recover from their blacklisting and that their peerless work would be forgotten because of it.  Well, country music never did recover from losing the Chicks and subsequently becoming more hostile to female voices than it had been in fifty years. It’s a barren wasteland.

But as for the latter concern, I needn’t have worried. All the Chicks had to do was get back on stage, and the audience showed up to hear them prove, once again, that nobody does it better than them.

7 Comments

  1. While watching those clips I was struck be how much a female performer can empower and embolden the female fans in her audience. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and the rest of the frat boys have no clue that country music can enliven something in a person that they either have missed or didn’t know they had. That’s especially true when your music doesn’t use a woman as an object. And that is what I missed about the Dixie Chicks, and probably what ultimately cut them off from country music: they are women with self-awareness and self-respect who are singing those lessons to other women, and men. And that dates all the way back to Mother Maybelle and Kitty Wells. And the country establishment wanted to keep them in their place, and teach them a lesson about being your own person, your own woman. And unfortunately that is still the status quo. Imagine the feeling you get singing in the car to ” Not Ready To Make Nice” as compared to “Body Like A Back Road”.

  2. @CraigR,

    I agree with your comment wholeheartedly. The Chicks resonated, and continue to resonate, with female listeners in a way that is so inspiring to see. I’m so happy that this film captured that, because it was all around me at the show that I caught. Singing along with “Wide Open Spaces” is one thing, but the audience knowing every word of “Top of the World” and “Easy Silence” was something else entirely.

    The appeal to women was also such a huge part of Shania Twain’s success that was easily overlooked because of her poster girl image. The boys were looking at her, but she was looking past them and talking to the girls.

  3. I get that some of their early hits don’t have the depth of later ones, but some of them are catchy, and I think “You Were Mine” is a fairly stunning ballad. It’s also one you’d think they all relate to as well, since I believe all have been divorced at this point. I also love “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me,” and some of the album tracks (like the Bonnie Raitt cover) would be terrific live.

  4. Like Jason, I also love “Tonight the Heartache’s On Me”. I also love some of their other “catchy” songs such as “Some Days You Gotta Dance”, “Sin Wagon”, “Let ‘er Rip”, “Long Time Gone” and “Lubbock or Leave It”.

  5. I’m someone (one of only a few?) who finds Taking the Long Way overrated. I do think “Not Ready To Make Nice” is epic, and I love tracks like “The Long Way Around,” but overall to me it lacks the magic (the Chicks’ musicianship and spirit) of their first three albums. I understand why they changed the tone of their music for it, but that doesn’t mean on the whole I liked it. In other words, I would have preferred an extra song or two from their early albums as opposed to so many tracks from their last album.

  6. Man, do I miss hearing the Dixie Chicks on the radio. Today, I consider their blacklisting to be one of worst, if not THE worst thing to happen to country music. Not only do I miss hearing more quality songs on the radio from both genders, I also miss hearing more of what CraigR. and Kevin have pointed out: women singing to other women. That’s one of the reasons I find myself always going back to the late 90’s and early 00’s. That period was full of women singing to women and many songs I can relate to, unlike today.

  7. This is just speculating here, but their inclusion of a fair amount of material from Taking The Long Way probably has as much to do with the current political situation as it does with lingering feelings about their having been (and continuing to be) blackballed by the country music industry, the scars of which still haven’t exactly healed (and may never heal).

    Even so, I think the Chicks are the only band/group around, female or otherwise, that could have ever seriously gotten away with being as wildly eclectic as they have been, doing everything from bluegrass and string-band to Americana, old-school honky-tonk, and country-rock, and having such a gargantuan impact that, even if not in terms of overt fan hysteria, is almost on par with the Beatles. Their blackballing is unquestionably one of the most reprehensible things the country music establishment has ever done to any act, but it has backfired on that same industry, because the quality of country music since then has gone right into the toilet (IMHO).

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