Texas should be proud of Dixie Chicks
Reviewed by Bruce Elder, The Sydney Morning Herald
IN MORE than 30 years of reviewing concerts I have never seen anything like it. When
Natalie Maines, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, sang Not Ready to Make Nice, her swingeing attack on those who
threatened her life after she had the affront to say she was ashamed George Bush was from Texas, the whole audience sang along.
Everywhere you could see people shouting: "I'm not ready to make nice/ I'm not ready
to back down/ I'm still mad as hell." Then, when the song finished, she got a standing ovation. This was not the end of the
concert. This was the 12th song, the halfway point in a two-hour concert, and the audience just went crazy.
That's the thing about the Dixie Chicks. In a world awash with mendacity, spin-doctoring,
compromises and dishonesty, they are a beacon of integrity.
Maines stirs something deep in her audience. She has had death threats, had her records
destroyed, been banned from radio and seen the trio's record sales cut in half. But, unlike the appeasers and the compromisers,
she is not ready to make nice and her audience loves and respects her for that.
To cynics it must seem strange that integrity is even mentioned in the same sentence
as country music. But that is to misunderstand both the Dixie Chicks and the essence of Texan country music. Texas has always
been different from Nashville. It has given country music such original and literate talents as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt,
Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett.
It was Lovett who once observed that in Nashville they knew he came from Texas because
he had so many words in his songs. In other words Texan country is intelligent country, which is why the Dixie Chicks have
crafted songs about domestic violence (there was another singalong on Goodbye Earl, with the audience roaring that
Earl had to die), the tragedy of war (the sweet harmonies of Travellin' Soldier, which was the first encore) and the
struggle with infertility (the touching So Hard). There was also a yee-hah hoedown romp titled White Trash which
they dedicated to Mel Gibson and, as an encore, a fiery version of Bob Dylan's Mississippi.
But in any final analysis the reason for the success of the Dixie Chicks is that
they are truly exceptional songwriters. They move effortlessly from ballads (Top of the World), to almost punk country
(Sin Wagon), to hard-edged trad country (Everybody Knows) and Nanci Griffith-like folkiness (Wide Open Spaces)
and, by any objective measure, they have never made a bad album or written a bad song.
No wonder they're ashamed of George Bush. They are way more talented and intelligent.