When The Dixie Chicks talk of going home on their third major label release, that means a return to roots of different sorts in what probably is their best and most consistent album to date. After a break for marriage, baby and a legal confrontation with their record label, The Chicks throw caution to the wind.
They make it clear that they're not going to be hitting the pop country button with Darrell Scott's opening "Long Time Gone.," a hit single. Natalie Maines makes ready references to Haggard, Cash and Hank in cute wordplay. But this is not name dropping to please the traditional country crowd. That seems apparent because what you get musically is a lot of banjo from Emily Robison and fiddle from sister Martie Maguire and nary a drum sound. In fact, banjo and fiddle are often heard throughout the bluegrass-based disc, right from the opening strains of "Long Time Gone" and the strong cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." And of course, Robison and Maguire play their own instruments, not letting a bunch of session folks handle the chore. Quite clearly, the Chicks are going away from the mainstream with this kind of sound, which is probably more akin to the "O Brother" side of the musical track. Maines turns in a strong vocal effort, not oversinging, quite capable of taking it down a notch, while still able to give a great depth of emotion to the lyrics. She also gets a lot of help on backing harmonies from her mates.
The production (incidentally the album was made in Austin, not Nashville) from Natalie's father, Lloyd, and the Chicks is pared down, not quite as slick perhaps as "Wide Open Spaces" and "Fly." The Chicks picked a slew of good songs, including a very heartfelt "Travelin Soldier" from Bruce Robison, Emily's brother in law, while writing the humorous "White Trash Wedding" themselves and the sisters penning two with Marty Stuart and the sharp driving bluegrass instrumental, "Lil' Jack Slade" with Lloyd Maines and Teri Hendrix.
This disc isn't a case of being third time lucky. The Chicks take many chances as they have throughout their career by going home to Texas and hitting a home run.