Dixie Chicks

Record review

Texas Platters

Dixie Chicks

Taking the Long Way (Columbia)

The Long Way in the title of the latest from the Dixie Chicks begins with that "little ol' cowgirl band from Texas" and ends with three strong women with opinions they firmly stand behind. It's been a mighty journey, and not for the faint-hearted, but the trio's fourth album (not counting the three made before Natalie Maines joined the band) is a declaration of confident defiance, if not necessarily triumph. Moving further away from country as defined by Nashville's Music Row, the Chicks decided to work with production Svengali Rick Rubin, who doesn't change their sound as much as gives it a mature edge. The centerpiece, "Not Ready to Make Nice," reacts to the uproar over Maines' comments about President Bush with remarkable potency, and with assistance from co-writers such as Semisonic's Dan Wilson, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, Neil Finn, Sheryl Crow, and Keb' Mo', Taking the Long Way brims with pop hooks while retaining the band's Americana roots. The fiddle-fueled "Bitter End," hard-charging "Lubbock or Leave It," and urgent "Voice Inside My Head" are all radio-worthy, even if radio won't touch them. With The Long Way Around, the Chicks haven't turned a corner as much as locked horns with their recent past, their spirituality and spunk intact, heroines on the side of truth.

***.5

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