When I first bought the 1998 Dixie Chicks album Wide Open Spaces, I knew the group had copped their name from the Little Feat song Dixie Chicken. What I did not realize is that the group had been around since 1989 as a bluegrass quartet, with the sisters Martie and Emily Erwin and two others. When those other two left – one quit, the other apparently forced out – Natalie Maines became the lead singer. The sisters expanded their instrumental repertoire, and their sound became more contemporary country.
The 1999 album Fly was even more successful. It “debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, selling over 10 million copies and making the Dixie Chicks the only country band and the only female band of any genre to hold the distinction of having two back-to-back RIAA certified diamond albums.” It was not without controversy, though. “Sin Wagon [LISTEN], from which the term ‘mattress dancing ‘takes on a new twist, and ‘Goodbye Earl’, a song that uses black comedy in telling the story of the unabashed murderer of an abusive husband.” WATCH the video featuring NYPD Blue’s Dennis Franz as Earl.
After a label dispute and some family time, the trio released Home, “independently produced by Lloyd Maines [Natalie’s father] and the Chicks” August 27, 2002. They were performing at a concert in London on March 10, 2003, during what turned out to be the inevitable rollup to the Iraq war, when “Natalie Maines, who along with Robison and Maguire was also a native of Texas, said: ‘Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.'” This caused an almost immediate and massive backlash against the Chicks in the US, and subsequent apologies and clarifications did nothing to tamp it down. That very week, in an buycott action, I bought Home, which I would have likely purchased anyway. I appreciated how the sisters stood by Natalie. (Whereas Simon Cowell bashed her on American Idol, and he was hardly the only one.)
It wasn’t until 2006 before they put out Taking the Long Way, featuring the pointed single Not Ready to Make Nice [LISTEN]. The album went to #1, but the singles were ignored by country radio. I suspect lots of non-country music fans bought it in support of the Dixie Chicks.
Though the group has performed periodically, the sisters have put out two albums as Court Yard Hounds, an eponymous album in May 2010 (which I have) and Amelita in July 2013. Maines released a solo album, Mother in May 2013, which I purchased; it’s much more pop than country.
The Dixie Chicks were touring in Canada in the fall of 2013. Whether they will record together something more than a a couple tracks, only time will tell.