Sunday, August 18, 2013

Natalie Maines: Mother

A great singer whose first solo album disappoints

The Dixie Chicks in 2003
     Natalie Maines possesses a big, clear, keening voice that is inimitable.  She was the front woman for The Dixie Chicks, the last superstar female-centric band.  They began as a country group and immediately crossed over to enormous mainstream pop success after other female artists like Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and LeAnn Rimes had led the way.  Unless you lived under a rock in 2003, you know
that they got into trouble for an off-the-cuff statement by Maines that was considered unpatriotic by some.  Other artists have questioned American foreign policy, but haven’t been vilified to the same degree.  

     After three multi-platinum albums and a fourth that swept the Grammy Awards, but couldn’t recapture the heart of the south, the Chicks went on hiatus.  Though they’ve toured, they haven’t released any new music as a group.  However, Natalie Maines released Mother in May.  I’ve been meaning to write about it, but work got in the way.  That’s an excuse because, to be honest, I don’t like the album very much.  Maines’s voice is still wonderful, but there are echoes of The Dixie Chicks songs and that’s a problem.

     Even on some of their sad story songs like “Travelin’ Soldier,” there was still a sense of joy or, at least, hope.  Mother is a mid-tempo, art rock album that could have been released any time between around 1975 to 1988 by Pink Floyd or Yes or some other Prog-Rock group that was a little past its prime.  Thankfully, there aren’t achingly long guitar solos, but there is lugubriousness about the production that reminds the listener that this is serious.  There’s little variety in the subject matter, all of which somehow relates to motherhood, though none of the cuts demonstrate the pride, rage, and vitality of The Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You,” or “I’m A Mother.”  

Natalie's New Look
     One issue for Maines is that she isn’t a songwriter.  The Chicks wrote some of their songs together, but also relied heavily upon other songwriters.  This has been the standard practice for most country artists.  However, it isn’t how most rock artists operate and Maines has repeatedly stated that she is no longer a country singer.  This could be a difficulty since The Dixie Chicks still perform sporadically.  Linda Ronstadt – a primary influence for Maines – isn’t a writer either, but she has had a spectacularly commercial and then artistically intriguing career by applying her voice to pretty much any genre that interested her.  

Playing "Mom" on vacation
     The strongest cuts on Mother are those written by or with Ben Harper including “Take It On Faith,” that Maines co-penned.  Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd can be dour when they’re more about the vocals than the instrumentation.  I hope that for her next album, Maines considers other genres like blues, girl group pop, the great American songbook, and yes, country.

Don't be sad Natalie. Things will get better!

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