Beyoncé featuring Dixie Chicks
Written by Kevin Cossom, Alex Delicata, Diana Gordon, and Beyoncé Knowles
When the Dixie Chicks made their return to the CMA stage after fifteen years away, they did so alongside Beyoncé, an R&B superstar that is at her creative peak joining one of the most talented bands to ever be associated with country music. It was a collaboration that fits neatly in the country music tradition, and was clearly designed to also be a water cooler moment like last year’s pairing between Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton.
But Chris Stapleton wasn’t exiled from the genre for speaking out against the president and Justin Timberlake gets people dancing and romancing, but not in formation. The political implications of this particular pairing are enormous, and I’ll get to them, but first, let’s talk about “Daddy Lessons.”
So what happens when you get Beyoncé and the Chicks together? It sounds like they passed through New Orleans en route from their home state of Texas to that Nashville stage, and all of the disparate musical elements come together flawlessly, a tribute to the talent and strength of the four ladies upfront. Natalie Maines and Beyoncé Knowles trade off verses effortlessly, and the song sounds as much as a personal anthem for Maines as it does for the woman who wrote it and is performing it with her.
It’s one of the highlights of Beyoncé’s stunning Lemonade collection, and her choice to use a country arrangement on her album was both a tribute to her Texas roots and a subversive embrace of the Second Amendment rights that seem to only apply to Americans that do not look like Beyoncé. The Chicks added it to their set list during their reunion tour this year, and their performance of it was quite powerful as well, zeroing in on the misogyny that they have challenged in their rejection of Southern hospitality in favor of speaking their minds, fully aware of the consequences that come with women who do so. Their expulsion coincided with the erasure of nearly all of the genre’s top-selling women, many of them banished for impurity of production instead of politics, but gone just the same.
There’s a lot of talk about saving country music these days, and it’s usually in the context of bringing back traditional sounds and instrumentation. Listening to the Dixie Chicks on record again, I’m reminded of the time when country music truly needed saving: When authoritarianism disguised as patriotism and misogyny dressed up as righteousness expelled from the genre the one act that was doing its best to preserve the traditions of country music while at the same time leading it forward.
To anyone who talks of saving country music today, you’re thirteen years too late, as Natalie Maines reminds us when she and Beyoncé slip into “Long Time Gone” just long enough to deliver its indictment: “They sound tired, but they don’t sound Haggard. They’ve got money, but they don’t have Cash. They got Junior, but they don’t have Hank. I think. I think. I think -“
That verse was on stage in front of the entire industry that rejected them and sullied itself in the process, as the Dixie Chicks returned not as country music’s prodigal daughters, but as its prophets so foolishly ignored, and they walked away victorious, and unlikely to return to country music again.
And what is country music left with with them gone?
Well, they’ve got Dixie, but they don’t have the Chicks.
I really wouldn’t call the Lemonade arrangement of Daddy Lessons “country,” any more than I would “Die a Happy Man.” It’a classic rhythm and blues (not “R&B,” which just means pop music made by someone who doesn’t look like a music critic, these days). The instrumentation was horns, drums and bass, with occasional acoustic guitar.
This version was a ton more country, largely because they had Martie and a Emily on the fiddle and banjo, but there’s a very fair argument that the prominence of the horns and bass make it a “true” Americana song.
Also…I’m really not sure what the potshot at SCM is supposed to be about. Trigger freaking loves the Dixie Chicks, frequently references Home as one of the greatest albums of all time, and considers the 2003 witch hunt one of the greatest setbacks in “real country’s” attempt to return to radio relevance.
I read no mention of Trigger in this review. Trigger may have a site named Saving Country Music, but he’s hardly the only person high atop that slippery soapbox. Furthermore, Kevin has said nothing of Trigger’s thoughts regarding the Chicks in this review.
Clearly not country, and actually, not a very interesting song – too derivative of many better songs. I would give it a “B” because it is pleasant enough, but nothing special. The sax solo is probably the highlight of the performance
Am I the only person that feels that Natalie Maines vocal abilities are not quite what they were some years ago ??
Election day is Tuesday – be sure to vote !!
None of the top of the ballot choices is any good at all, but there are other important decisions to be made up and down the ballot in addition to which worthless buffoon will be elected as president, so be sure to vote
I don’t know who Trigger is. I’m aware of Saving Country Music, the website, but I don’t read it. The general perspective that I’m referring to in my review is ongoing and has existed for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I started Country Universe in the first place.
Regarding the election, I disagree about the worthiness of the top of the ticket, but concur that people should vote regardless.
Sorry, Jason, but uneducated people have just as much right to vote as any legal, true American citizen. Whether you’re from the mountains, the projects, the cabin in the snow, the spoiled heiress, a high school drop-out, or living in the middle of nowhere – if you’re an American citizen, you should vote. Every US citizen’s voice has a right to be heard regardless of whether some think they’re worthy or not.
To have the next comment be about this song.
I absolutely love this song. Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks are among some of the best artists right now in the music industry as a whole. Lemonade stood out to me as one of the best albums of 2016 and man when you add The Dixie Chicks with a woman as much natural prescence behind the mic like Beyonce, only gold can come from that.
“Daddy Lessons” isn’t purely a country song, but it’s obvious that the Venn Diagram of influences that are reflected in it includes a “country” circle, among many others. This studio recording of the collaboration between Beyonce and Dixie Chicks increases the size of that circle and pushes it toward the center of the Venn Diagram. It works, and it works beautifully.
The song itself is strong enough in its structure to hold up to different variations– the version from Lemonade, for instance, foregrounds the influence of Dixieland jazz in its production. In terms of its writing, the country (and traditional blues) influences are most apparent in the economy of the lyrics; Beyonce’s songs are often verbose and rely heavily on current slang, and that’s not the case here.
The content of the song is pointed and smart: The idea that what we inherit is more than just genetics, and things like a sense of duty, prejudices, and fears are passed down from generation to generation? That’s certainly an important, timely message, and it’s no mystery why that might appeal to the Dixie Chicks, even though their experiences are fundamentally different from Beyonce’s.
Country music was better when the Dixie Chicks were at the forefront of the genre’s mainstream, honoring its traditions while recognizing the value of forward-thinking pop influences. As much as I want a proper new album from them– or a studio version of their “Don’t Let Me Die in Florida” cover– this will more than suffice for now.
Based on their concert I attended in mid-September, I don’t think Natalie Maines’ voice has lost a bit of its power. That she hasn’t recorded or toured often over the past decade has allowed her voice to hold up far better than that of many of her contemporaries from the late 90s / early 2000s.
Maines is too young that she should have lost anything vocally.
Aretha is much older and she had so much vocal power to start with that she could have lost 75% of it and still blown most singers out of the water. And yes, it can make a difference
Leann I would like to know what you thought of the performance?
Quick, semi-unrelated question: Will y’all be doing a post about their TAKING THE LONG WAY album? I saw the posts for all their others, just curious if that one was in the works, or if i just missed the post.
I loved it! What did you think of it?
Fair enough. It just seemed like a very pointed dogwhistle, considering that he had just posted something about the performance.
I have never seen anyone using the term “saving country” unironically who doesn’t absolutely love the Dixie Chicks, so I found the reference confusing.
Leann I loved it too!
A lot of people talk about how this artist or that artist will save country music. A few years ago, it was Jamey Johnson and last year it was Chris Stapleton, not to mention Sturgill Simpson, etc. In full disclosure, I’ve read about four or five articles from the SCM site. The tone of the site and the subsequent comment sections haven’t aligned with my points of view, but that’s fine, because it means that CU and SCM have different purposes and there’s enough room for both perspectives.
I’m glad to hear it!:)
While I am not a fan of “Queen Bey” by any means, I do think this very C&W version of “Daddy’s Lessons” with the Chicks is really quite fun, with the addition of authentic twang in the form of Martie’s fiddle and Emily’s banjo wizardry. Is it “country” in the strictest sense of the term (i.e. Nashville)? No, not really. But neither is much else we get on the radio.
I really think the bellyaching and the vitriol directed at this collaboration is based less on Beyoncé and her audience, or even the Chicks’ “Incident” of 2003, per se than it is on Nashville’s historical bias against all-female collaborations of any kind. Even the vaunted Trio project of Dolly, Linda, and Emmylou (which I will always maintain inspired the Chicks, and nearly every female singer that came along in the 1990s), wasn’t exactly loved by the Music Row establishment in 1986-87…at first, anyway (until it sold four million albums, of course)
Longtime SCM reader here, and I see value in many of both this blog’s and SCM’s perspectives.
I was not too keen on the original version of “Daddy Lessons” being pushed as a country song, honestly, but the version of the song with the Chicks on the CMAs was pretty good. Miles ahead of a lot of everything else on the radio, to be sure. I think I would still rather hear more of the independent artists on the Texas and Americana scenes on the radio, but as the old saying goes, any chair in a bar fight.
(And for the record, as a complete Bill of Rights champion, I do think it is this country’s eternal shame that so many of those rights, including those protected by the Second Amendment, are so routinely denied to black people. It should not still be such more than a century after the Civil War.)
Late to returning to the conversation, but to echo what Leeann said, the messiah complex has been an issue in country music for as long as I’ve been listening to it, even in the nineties when things were fairly traditional overall. I remember an interview with Tammy Wynette that said the only songs on the radio in 1993 that she considered country were Lorrie Morgan’s “I Guess You Had to Be There” and Pam Tillis’ “Do You Know Where Your Man Is.”
So many new artists have been saddled with the country music savior label out of the gate: Lee Ann Womack, Gretchen Wilson, Joe Nichols, Josh Turner, Brad Paisley, Jamey Johnson, Dixie Chicks, Chris Stapleton.
It’s a burden that overwhelms them in different ways, either by them being hamstrung from artistic growth or them expanding their sound and being viewed as betrayers.
So I stay away from the nonsense that country music needs saving, because I don’t agree with the diagnosis of its ills or see any effectiveness in the remedy, and because I just can’t muster any moral outrage over country music. I just listen to what I like to listen to.
Love Kevin’s last paragraph. There are much more important things to be morally outraged over.
An actually perfect review. So many kudos.
I don’t listen to much country music these days, and I mostly hate Beyonce’s musical style. But man am I digging this…