Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kat's Korner: Dixie Chicks Taking The Long Way home while NYT gets lost along the way

Kat: The Dixie Chicks Taking The Long Way came out Tuesday. The album brings up a number of issues and the big question is where to start?

With the CD itself, of course (though a number of 'critics' seem confused). What do you have if you purchase the CD? One of the strongest albums of the year.

The Dixie Chicks take the long way but it's their only way. That's lyrically (as many have noted) but it's musically as well. Wide Open Spaces was a musical world away from Home. They might as well have been recorded by two different groups. Taking The Long Way continues down the same road.

Wouldn't kiss all the asses that they told me to
No I could never follow
I could never follow
Its' been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I'm getting it back on the road now
But I'm taking the long way

That's from the first track and it sets the tone for the album. It's what has a lot of 'geniuses' saying that the group sounds like Fleetwood Mac. The song's called "Taking the Long Way Around" (written by Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Dan Wilson) and it continues musical progression made on Home as well as on "Too Far From Texas."


Oh, that's right your big critics in your big papers, like the New York Times, Jon-Boy and Kelefa for instance, who weigh in but know nothing, they don't mention that song. Because they're talking out their asses -- but we'll get to them soon enough.

It's a sad, sad story
When a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin' that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell
And I don't have time
To go round and round and round

The lyrics quoted above are being read as only applying to what Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks went through following Maines telling an audience at a London concert that she was ashamed the Bully Boy was from Texas. The song (also written by Robison, Maquire, Maines and Wilson) does have that meaning. It also has additional meanings.

Shut up and sing, shut up and smile. Find me a woman who's never been told that, urged that and we're going to be looking at a doormat who never takes a chance or takes a shot -- someone just pleased as punch with whatever she's got and might be handed.

The Dixie Chicks have always been about sisterhood. And they've always been slammed for it. "Dixie Chicks with D**cks" was a popular sneer circa 1998. Your foolish critics can't tell you that because they don't live in the real world and the Chicks didn't register with them until 2003.
But the Chicks have long been slammed by sexists.

These songs on this album, Natalie Maines is singing for everywoman. Consider her the heir to Jackson Browne's legacy in terms of her voice/persona. That's always been the case. And like Browne, with each album, the world around has come closer and closer. (Unlike Browne or any other man, Maines isn't allowed to be angry.)

There's not a clunker on the album. Lyrically or musically. Lyrics? Women can identify. So can any man who's refused to stand down in the face of adversity. If you could get into Jackson Browne's Running On Empty, you can get into this album. It's a glimpse that makes some uncomfortable but that's always been true of the Dixie Chicks. "Goodbye Earl" wasn't for the weak hearted. "Bitter End" will call to mind "Rosie" from Running On Empty -- but when Browne sings it, we're supposed to either giggle that he got in a nod to masturbation or else be overpowered that a man could lay it so bare.

Many years ago, in the now defunct Musician magazine, Joni Mitchell was interviewed by Bill Flanagan. (Skip the version that appears in Flanagan's Written in My Soul -- he leaves out many important details such as Joni explaining how the charts could be, and were, rigged.) Speaking of then newcomer Aimee Mann, Mitchell said:

Do you think they accept it [exposing one's self in song] from a woman? I don't know. The feedback that I get in my personal life is almost like, "You wanted it, libertine!" I feel like I'm in the same bind. That's not going to stop me, I'm still going to do it but I don't feel like I have the luxury because of my gender to do this. Uh-uh. It's just as hard. The things that to me as a writer have the most vitality are those kind of details. Those are the things that would make a novel or a screenplay good and have some depth as opposed to just being a caricature. I sacrifice myself to them. I'd never really say that ws easy. I just don't know any other way to be. If I could think of a way to change and get consistently strong so that I could sing about strong things . . . no, it's a delicate thing. I wouldn't go putting it into a gender bag at all.
But I know what you mean about Aimee. A guy could not get up and deliver that. But I don't think there are many people that can, period. For the people that can, it's not even a risk; it's just kind of an inevitability.

That just explained Long Way Home for anyone still confused.

The Dixie Chicks are using their own lives (as they have before) and that's making a few nervous. Most of the guys I've heard singing (in their day to day non-performing lives) "If the roadie don't mind" (Browne's "The Load Out") have never been on stage or dealt with a roadie. There was something more they were relating to.

The same is true of this album, it's very easy to relate to. The harmonies are tight (and reminiscent of some of the strongest vocal groups -- including Fleetwood Mac when they're actually harmonizing), the production is first-rate (this isn't tripping back to the seventies and the LA sound despite what some reviews tell you) but equally important is the music and if you can listen to "Bitter End" or "Silent House" and not be pulled in, then this isn't the album for you -- go look for another return of Mimi or wait for Justy's new product to be unleashed on the public.

Vocally, Robison and Maguire provide solid harmonies throughout. Lead vocals? Natalie Maines has always had similarities to Stevie Nicks and those shine through on this album. She can do the contralto Nicks uses so effectively these days as well as the soprano that Stevie turned into a sacrificial offering during the xillioneth performance of "Rhiannon" somewhere on the never ending tour of 1975 and 1976.

Forget the nay sayers. If you're reading this and didn't stumble across this site, you'll love the album. You'll love the honesty, the strength of it all. Yes, lyrically, yes, musically, yes in every way.

Is there a weak spot? Track nine. Track nine's a little too sunshine-day and has nothing really to say that fits with the rest of the album. It won't make you groan and it's over quickly enough that by the time you're onto the next song and lost in the backing vocals of "Voice Inside My Head," you'll have forgotten it.

In the sixties, vocal groups offered a range of personas. The tough-girls were the Shangri-Lahs. (Some try to argue for the Ronettes and, while they were tougher than many, they weren't the ones who would inspire Steven Tyler -- they would inspire Eddie Money which puts their 'toughness' into perspective.) But the Shangri-Lahs got stuck on the side of Let's All Polish Up Road (no motorcycle to hop onto after the crash of their "Leader of the Pack"?) and it's been starts and stops for women since then. The closest thing afterwards for women may have been the Go-Gos but a disaster of a performance as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live did more to destroy them then Belinda Carlisle's desire to be cute ever could.

Solo, women could and have been strong with chart success. But as a group of stength, it's been a long road of smile pretty, don't make waves, act like a lady. Along comes the Dixie Chicks. They're not new to crossover success, they pulled that trick while Bill Clinton was still in the Oval Office. And only someone ignorant of the charts could argue otherwise.

Which brings us to our critics of today. And, in the spirit of the Dixie Chicks, I'm not ready to make nice.

Let's start with Jon-boy by noting he loves to trash the women (study his reviews for Rolling Stone). He's also had it in for Stevie Nicks for years and was part of the subgroup at Rolling Stone that derided her talents and acomplishments. He was part of the whole "Lindsey Buckingham is Fleetwood Mac!" movement.

They tried for years, Rolling Stone, to pass that propaganda off as reality. Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks provided the big hits for the band. Once Lindsey's over-inflated opinion of himself took hold, the albums got a lot more gimicky (Fleetwood Mac's albums, his own were always "silly" as Jon-boy would note with pride and approval while hectoring Nicks) and you can thank your phallus worshipping critics for all of that -- chief among them the likes of Jon-boy -- idiots who never could stop crediting Buckingham for every bit of success the group had. As they sought refuge writing music reviews and articles for publications not noted for their music coverage, reality began to overcome fantasy at Rolling Stone and Stevie Nicks actually got some respect from the magazine.

Those boys who tried to crown Buckingham a rock star (a crowning that never took -- though they all sat around waiting for the head to emerge) never forgave Stevie for her succes or for not having a penis. Well in your dreams, Jon-boy, she can be whatever you need her to be.

Along comes Kelefa. Not a dumb critic. Not a useless one. But one who frequently writes with such a fact-free approach that she'd be better off starting those pieces with, "I'm about to go on and on about something I know nothing about." That was true last year when she laughable wrote of certifications based on shipments. (That was the pre-SoundScan age, as I pointed out at my site.) So what's a critic with an assignment to do but crib from Jon-boy?

That's why she doesn't tell you about "Too Far From Texas." (Jon-boy will always be at war with Stevie, that's his excuse.) What's "Too Far From Texas"? Ask the insta-expert Kelefa, I'm not here to spoon feed her.

Instead, let's "turn to the crystal blue mirror -- as always it is truthful." Stevie lyric but let's leave Kelefa uninformed since her "It's Dixie Chicks vs. Country Fans, but Who's Dissing Whom?" demonstrated she's happy to occupy space in the land of confusion.

There are two chief points she misses. C.I. called at noon to ask if I was going to note Kelefa in my review because otherwise, "I'm going to have to do an entry on it -- I'm getting too many complaints from friends and, when I finally read it, I saw why."

Kelefa tells you that the Dixie Chicks are in the midst of a war with country music fans. Kelefa's got a Bully Boy mentality of you're either with us or you're against us going on and it's not pretty. Her own non-existant claim isn't about WMD, it's in the midst of a laughable "therefore . . . therefore . . . therefore" sentence. I don't have a great deal of time to waste on her nonsense so we'll just note that she's apparently gotten 'bad intel.' (Jon-boy may be the one behind the Niger forgeries!)

Arriving late, and under-dressed mentally, Kelefa has no idea what the Chicks have been up against since they started. She probably thinks Toby Keith dissed Maines for the first time after the London concert. That's not reality. Reality is a lot of blustering boys were offended by the group long before Bully Boy illegally invaded Iraq. It's a size-envy thing. The Chicks outsold them and the Chicks didn't do it via Vegas-country. If Kelefa knew what was what, she'd know that it was the same thing Loretta Lynn was up against (the same thing that resulted in her songs being banned). Or Patsy Cline or any woman who didn't follow the 'rules.'

But Kelefa doesn't know her history so she's convinced that there's some new war going on when it's the same war that's been going on for years. You listened to "The Pill" or you listened to "Bandy The Rodeo Clown." I think if she'd been writing about a genre that had emerged more recently, Kelefa would be far less likely to stereotype the audience. But she does that while accusing the Dixie Chicks of making the same mistake she has made.

That's the way it goes at the Times with few exceptions. They just make up "facts" and write them down and an article with, for instance, fourteen factual errors gets two mistakes noted in the corrections and the Times figures that's enough (that writer, by the way, is back with the Times again -- proving that Jayson Blair can be put upon the cross but others who pass fiction off as fact never pay for their crimes).

The Dixie Chicks have been talking about the audience and that apparently shocked Kelefa because in her mind it's all the same thing. In her mind, Juice Newton, Lee Greenwood,
Willie Nelson, damn it, it's all the same thing!

If you tried to talk bluegrass with Kelefa (which does come to bear when you're talking the Dixie Chicks), she'd probably stare into space or go running down the hall, "Jon! Jon! What's blue grass!"

When Lynn had eight songs banned from the radio, it didn't end her career because everyone in country music wasn't opposed to those songs. The country audience is a bit more complex than Kelefa understands. (The Dixie Chicks grasp that, Kelefa's the one acting the fool.)

Kelefa appears to see Reba McEntire as the mouthpiece for all of country music. Why she thinks that, who knows? McEntire hosted a TV awards show which doesn't make her the last word in country music it just means she had the highest TVQ of anyone they could get. That TVQ comes from being the faded star of a cancelled show. (Quick, Reba, go record "Delta Dawn"!)

McEntire doesn't like the Dixie Chicks and got off a snide remark upfront. Kelefa would have you believe it brought the house down. It didn't. That's partly due to the fact that McEntire can't deliver a would-be funny line without jerking her head around as though she's gone into a seizure. It's also because the artists aren't all in McEntire's camp.

In the future, Kelefa might want to watch the shows she summarizes (both the awards show and 60 Minutes) and not just read about them.

Next Kelefa wants to tell you that the animosity towards the Dixie Chicks hasn't been experienced by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. They called out the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. (They've both done more privately, but that's what they did publicly.) In 2005, calling out the Bully Boy on something everyone could see with their own eyes is nothing like, in 2003, saying we need to think before rushing into war and maybe, just maybe, listen to the people.

Only in Kelefa's mind are the two events comparable.

McGraw can kick a poser like Toby Keith's butt (and Keith knows that) and Hill & McGraw are a couple.

The Dixie Chicks aren't men and they've got no high profile relationship with a country star male who can act as a shield. What they have had goes to why McEntire loathes them and it's nothing new, unless your name is Kelefa.

McEntire loves her some Bully Boy, but the conflict predates the installation of the chimp-in-chief. McEntire shot to fame and, with dopey tales of how she remembers her dead dog to work up emotion for 'sad' songs, immediately went the Queen Bee route. She's to be worshiped and adored as the exception (to the rule). It's Reba against the (female) world. It's there in her music, it was on display in her crappy TV show where, trying to do a conservative version of Roseanne, Reba made sure she came off more angelic than Della Reese and Roma Downey combined.

Now off camera, she was fond of sick outs, but in front of the camera, she was the Angel of the Administration. (Just touch her cheek before you leave her, Bully.) "My husband done left me!" allowed her character to trade barbs with the woman who stole her man and kept Reba center stage. Without a sidekick. With no female friends popping into multiple episodes. This wasn't Roseanne.

How she was supposedly paying for food for all those (nonworking) people in her house was the sort of detail that, like Bully Boy's tax code, careful study reveals to be a crock. She crowed, over and over, "I'm a survivor" and it didn't reach the tweeners of the WB and didn't reach out to women that might have been the show's intended audience. Probably because most women don't picture living close by to the woman who stole their husband -- but she's a survivor! No need for assistance from the government, she's a survivor! No need to tackle the issue of insurance or any other thing that someone who had to work for a living while feeding six people would have to face. It was dream-time in the non-reality based world of der 'homeland.'

She's an exception and the point is made in her lousy I-done-lost-another-man songs over and over. Queen Bees are nothing new (except to Kelefa) and that's always been at the heart of the conflict between McEntire and the sisterhood of the Dixie Chicks. One stood for empowerment and the strength you can gather within a group, the other stood for herself and only herself.

To deal with the more recent issue of party politics and war, Kelefa doesn't bother to tell readers (probably because she has no idea) that McEntire was offering her corn-pone slams on the Dixie Chicks right after Natalie Maines remark. (Reba apparently supports "110%" the right of "our armed forces" to die in an illegal war.) As someone said of McEntire, "She was born trash, she'll die trash. The only question is whether or not she'll apologize for cheerleading a war that's cost so many lives?"

Though Kelefa either doesn't know or doesn't tell readers, Reba hobknobs with the Bully Boy family in Houston (Internet pals with Poppy! Keep it clean, Reba!), supported Bully Boy's 2004 run (well that's at least $2000 that didn't get wasted on bad plastic surgery) and of course got into the White House first when Poppy was president. (The Dixie Chicks, pre-Maines, performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration.)

That's the backstory readers aren't told.

Current truths also go missing. When Kelefa's going to write about the Dixie Chicks current career status, she needs to note McEntire's: Reba needs a hit real bad. In 2004, when the Bully Boy was riding higher, so was Reba. But like the Bully Boy's polls in the last two years, Reba's taken a tumble. Her last two singles? The most recent peaked at sixty and the one prior at thirty-three. For all Kelefa's cautionary tales of the Dixie Chicks, they charted higher this year than did Reba. And, to repeat, the low rated sitcom Reba has been mercifully cancelled. (Survive that.) (ADDED: C.I. advises me that although Reba was cancelled, on May 17th, the CW ordered thirteen episodes of the show for next year. Which is sort of the sucker punch we've come to expect when we get a little good news these days.)

There's something sad about aging Queen Bees. They don't become aware, they just spin around uselessly and damage the world around them. Reba cheerleaded the Bully Boy and cheerleaded the war. If anyone has something to apologize for, I'd say it's the fifty-plus loud mouth with the brassy (dyed) red hair who pushed a war when she damn well should have been old enough to know better. But war cheerleaders and war pornographers never apologize.

As for Kelefa, there should be some embarrassment factor for her. Not just for being so ignorant but also for the fact that she works at a paper that was instrumental in lying us into war. Instead, she wants to lecture the Dixie Chicks who (pay attention, Kelefa) don't need a lecture about whining over lost fans because they haven't whined. They've accepted any fall out. They're not running from anything. They're upfront about it on the CD and in interviews.

Having proven she knows nothing about emo and knows nothing about how albums are certified, today Kelefa wanted to demonstrate to America that she also knows nothing about country music. Having done that, quite successfully, it may be time for her to try taking some responsibility?

For instance, when she next has gas and finds herself bored, maybe she could do the readers a favor and light her farts instead of attempting to have them put to the printed page.

That would certainly do the world more good than her accusing the Dixie Chicks of the dastardly deed of "having conflated politics and culture" -- that's what art is. (Combining and bringing together are the definitions I'm using.) So the Dixie Chicks mine their own experiences and end up with an amazing album, an amazing work of art. How do you know it's amazing. It sends the Timid, forever two years late when it comes to music coverage, in a frenzy over the fact that three women might actually have something to say. Yes, we're back to the ones screaming "Shut up and sing!" It may surprise some that the Times would join in on that but they were, after all, one of the biggest sellers of the war on Iraq -- and, point of fact, they still sell the war. Today they pushed their limited scope into the music section.