07th May2013

Review :: Natalie Maines: Mother

by Ryan

maineshead

Release Date: May 7,2013

Confession: I like the Dixie Chicks. Not the mainstream stuff that garnered them all their airplay, but some of the deeper tracks and less successful singles off the albums. Songs like “Cold Day in July”, “You Were Mine”, and “Fly” are the real heroes of their collection. Unfortunately, things got too hot in the kitchen and, while they didn’t officially call it quits, they’ve kept things to a fairly low profile over the last few years.

Back in 2010, the sisters, Marty Maguire and Emily Robison released an album under the moniker of “Court Yard Hounds“. I bought it when it released but have never been too impressed with it. It charted well upon it’s release due to the existing love for the Chicks, but as far as I know, no one is clamoring for a follow-up. What that record did, however, was leave us all longing for a Natalie Maines solo album. Well, friends… it’s finally here.

When I put this record on, it was immediately like a cool drink of water in a desert. Some vocalists just have that transcendent quality to their voice that  puts you at ease. I was honestly surprised by my reaction – I didn’t realize how much I had missed that sound. Musically, the tone is toward that heavier end Dixie Chicks catalog, but I won’t go so far as to agree with the artist that it is a “rock” record.

[Aside: Alright, let’s push pause. I know that I’ve stirred up a little controversy in the past by discussing a foreign artist who said some derogatory things about America. So, I can only assume that the same vitriol exists toward Ms. Maines. She is certainly a “speak before thinking” kind of individual. Of course, her words are certainly born out of her convictions, so you can’t really get her off the hook there. So, I’ll say again – as I always do – I don’t let that kind of stuff get in the way of me enjoying someone’s music. To each their own, if it bothers you, I understand that, I hope you’ll jump back in next time. Thanks for reading.]

A large portion of this record is cover songs. Maybe it will hurt my credibility, but I didn’t know a single one of them prior to hearing them here. That said, the selections are perfectly chosen for the artist and she does a great job of making them her own. Producer Ben Harper does a great job of bringing the collection together without infusing too much of his own personality into it. I think that we all knew that the sisters were the musical talent of the Dixie Chicks, but Maines was always the star. She’s done a good job here of surrounding herself with the right people that allow her to do what she does best without exposing her weaknesses.

The album opens with a track by Maines’ good friend and Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder. Here, “Without You” finds a sense of urgency that it lacked on Vedder’s Ukelele Songs thanks to strong production and instrumentation. The Pink Floyd cover and album title track, Mother is a big win. This slow-burner paints a picture of challenging and contesting an oppressive authority figure – it’s an idea that feels tailor-made for Maines.

The lost Patty Griffin track, “Silver Bell”, is a full on country rocker that brings to mind those biggest Dixie Chicks hits. If there’s a spot where Maines fails to outshine her source material, it is when covering Jeff Beck‘s “Lover You Should’ve Come Over.” Remaining tracks lean heavily on the songwriting of producer Harper. There’s also an unrecorded Chicks song, “Come Cryin’ to Me.”

All in all, it’s one of the best records I’ve heard this year. Maines has delivered in a far better way than her former partners. The difficult thing for her will be finding an audience. All but disavowed by her former faithful followers, I feel she’ll have a hard time finding a connecting point with a more northern audience who may identify more with her perspective.

At the end of the day, a greatest hits, shut up and sing, reunion tour should be expected from the Chicks within the next two years. Probably a critically-acclaimed but poorly received reunion record by 2017. And maybe another Maines solo effort by the end of the decade. The unfortunate effects of some foolish words a decade ago and the fickle nature of the listener.

 


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