God bless those seditious wenches, the Dixie Chicks. And if you want to strike a blow for genuine freedom, buy their latest CD, Taking The Long Way.
It's not an explicitly political album, but that's okay. After a number of years in this space bemoaning and decrying the lack of powerful, quality high-profile music addressing the urgent political and social issues of the day, wondering how I will fill my annual year-end wrap-up of progressive political music, the watershed has finally come here in 2006, and I'm wondering if I'll have enough space to cover all the notable political music and hoping I don't miss any of the worthy releases. Hallelujah!
The Chicks have already done their part and more with that brief off-the-cuff comment at a London concert by Natalie Maines about being ashamed that the Bush (frat) boy is from Texas (even though, as we leftist Texas residents -- including this New York State-born Yankee -- like to point out, he was born in Connecticut). The spit storm it prompted highlighted the blind, ignorant and empty so-called patriotism of much (but thankfully not all) of the country music industry and country radio, as well as, in some cases, their downright hatefulness. Just as country music was once about real life and is now polluted with bland and trite greeting card-style sentiments, the music industry acts and powers that condemned and banned the Chicks have also bought into the lies and propaganda of the feckless neo-con Republican junta.
And just as important if not maybe more so, the Chicks stood their ground amidst it all, showing the courage of their convictions and noble bravery under fire. And still, as Maines sings on the one song on the new album that addresses the controversy, they are "Not Ready To Back Down." You go girls! Great American leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt, whose comments about the importance of dissent in a democracy I cite again and again in these conformist times, are surely smiling in whatever hereafter in which their souls reside.
Other than "Lubbock Or Leave It," in which Maines takes on the small-minded attitudes of her West Texas hometown in the wake of "the incident," Taking The Long Way is an album about life, love, people and our human souls, as most of our entertainment should be. But in a fashion it's just as much a political and social statement by being a wonderful, alluring and oh-so-enjoyable slice of quality commercial popular music.
Every one of the major-label albums by the Chicks has set a high and admirable progressive standard for what country music today should be, from the sassy, hip and smart girl power of their mega-million-selling first two releases to the utterly delicious acoustic music on Home to the sophisticated and musically and emotionally rich California country-rock of the new one. My friends often accuse this longtime music critic of being too cynical and jaded. Yet as I spin over and over again my current favorite track on Taking The Long Way, the aptly titled "My Favorite Year," it reaches places and evokes emotions that are deep within my soul. Simply put, the Dixie Chicks are about as good as it gets when it comes to pop music.
Now the media is chattering about how country radio refuses to play the new music from the Chicks and they've had to cancel some tour dates due to slow sales. No matter, as their album is fast approaching sales of more than a million and they'll still sell truckloads of concert tickets. As Natalie Maines sings in the opening lines of "Not Ready To Make Nice": "I paid a price and I'll keep paying it."
They've truly put their money where their mouths -- and more importantly, their convictions -- are. In these days of craven cowardice and partisan conformity, the Dixie Chicks are to be admired for such fortitude and integrity.
And maybe, just maybe, they are winning the battle anyway. At a recent family gathering, I climbed into the rental car driven by my brother. He's a big mucky-muck Dallas power lawyer and partner in the largest firm in the Lone Star State as well as a born-again Baptist (we were raised Episcopalian) who attended the last Bush inaugural --but also, despite that, a good man and husband and father that I love dearly. Much to my delight, as he turned the key, Taking The Long Way was playing on the CD player, just as the day before it was playing in my rental car. After all, it's hard to resist the charms and power of damned good music.
So let's all salute Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison for being three great Americans. And then go buy Taking The Long Way as a gesture of support for musical quality and independence as well as political and personal courage. And, most importantly, because you'll dig the music.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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