Dixie Chicks,
Wide Open Spaces
(Monument, 1998)

I'd like to start by saying that I don't ever, ever, listen to anything that looks like country music. But when my sister got the Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces, I have to admit that I was intrigued. Anyone who calls themselves the Dixie Chicks has to be at least a little cool. After one listen I was hooked. Yes, there is certainly some twang, yes, everything that could possibly go wrong in these songs does, but they do it with attitude and spunk.

The Dixie Chicks are Natalie Maines, who probably never could have sung anything but country with that voice; Emily Erwin, who plays dobro, a mean banjo and acoustic guitar; and Martie Seidel, who plays a great fiddle and mandolin. Both Erwin and Seidel do background vocals as well. There are also a host of other musicians who play on the CD this really helps to create the full sound present on the entire album.

The Chicks don't actually do any of their own writing, and though the songs themselves are all pretty good, it's the attitude that makes the group. At least half of the songs are the typical country diatribe about love and life, and while no one has their pickup stolen or their dog run over, the songs get pretty close. The difference between this and what I don't like about most country is that Maines always sounds like she's having a good time. While they never pretend to be playing anything but country, they seem to be laughing at what they are doing. And that makes this great, the way they flout the conventions of country music.

The music almost always has an undertone of fun, even in the melodramatic numbers like "Tonight the Heartache's on Me" and "Am I the Only One (who's ever felt this way)." A few of the slow songs sound a little more sincere, but they are really toned down, with much less twang and a softer sound. Though they do almost sound like regular whiny country songs, the rest of the album changes the tone so much that these are forgivable. When the group performs songs that are actually supposed to be fun, they offer a foot stomping good time. How could anyone really go wrong with a song called "Let 'er Rip," about a person anticipating the breakup of a relationship they don't want to be in anymore? Bonnie Raitt's "Give It Up or Let Me Go" is another along the same lines that can't help but prompt a smile. Besides providing a lot of fun numbers, there are a few really good songs that even non-country little me likes. The title song, "Wide Open Spaces," is great to belt out along with the album and has great lyrical content. "I Can Love You Better" is a great starting song that gets you feet tapping as soon as you've hit play.

Even if you wouldn't normally touch country with a ten-foot pole, I recommend giving this CD a listen. (Remember, there isn't that big a leap between country and Celtic.) As I mentioned before, the album has a tone that is just plain fun, and an attitude that tips straight country on its ear. No matter what mood I am in when I put this album in the CD player, it is bound to put a smile of my face. I think that's just about the biggest endorsement that I can give Wide Open Spaces.

[ by Kristy Tait ]

Buy Wide Open Spaces from Amazon.com.