A week from tomorrow, the new Dixie Chicks disc Taking the Long Way arrives in stores, and though a review appears in the Observer on Wednesday, lemme say, in short, it's kinda swell; imagine if Fleetwood Mac made a country record for 1970s FM-rock radio, and you're halfway there. It's plenty pissed but not so "punk" it doesn't pretend it ain't pretty; Natalie Maines might be able to pick a fight, but danged if she'll bloody a knuckle lest she get it on her leather pants.
But old-timers know there was a time, before Maines was their main girl, that the Chicks were all about looking like sweethearts of the rodeo whilst cooing harmones more tooth-decaying than a thousand cones of cotton candy. So on this day before they move forward with their "outlaw" record, let's listen to some Dixie dandies dating back to the band's first three discs, when Laura Lynch and Robin Macy joined sisters Martie and Emily Erwin in the band long before the days of death threats, 60 Minutes and Rick Rubin. Seems like a million years ago; turns out it was just 15, and 11 since Lynch was replaced by Maines, whose daddy Lloyd was on two of the Chicks' first three records. I wonder if Martie remembers saying back then that "Emily and I want to continue and have a DC reunion every few years like the Texas Playboys." I wonder if Lynch and Macy remember it too.
The first cut, "Thank Heavens for Dale Evans," is the title track to the Chicks' 1991 debut, which, like all of the first trinity, was distributed by local Crystal Clear Sound; Martie was among the song's writers, and it's the very brand of perky yee-haw that made 'em Garrison Keillor crushes way back when. The second song, "Pink Toenails," comes from the sophomore album Little Ol' Cowgirl; Martie and Laura Lynch wrote it. But the third cut, "Planet of Love" from 1993's Shouldn't a Told You That, is perhaps the most interesting: It was written by John Leventhal (now husband of Rosanne Cash) and Jim Lauderdale, the post-mod, book-smart pre-alt.country star who made it the title track to his 1989 album. It hinted at a direction in which the Chicks were soon to travel: Macy was already out of the band, and Lynch was soon to follow as the Chicks chased their deal with Sony Music. So enjoy. By the way, rumor has it copies of these first three discs ain't hard to find, despite what some folks charge on eBay. Hell, make me an offer; I'm easy. --Robert Wilonsky
Out-of-Print Dixie Chicks
Dixie Chicks: "Thank Heavens for Dale Evans" (1991)