Music Musings: Dixie Chicks (May 31, 2006)

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by Nancy HarrisonIf anyone had any doubts about the Dixie Chicks’ commercial viability, they need only to look at this week’s Billboard album charts.The controversial country trio’s new disc “Take the Long Way”, debuted at number one, selling more than a half million copies. While the figure is more than 200 thousand copies lower than the first week sales of their previous disc, “Home”, it is still an astounding accomplishment on more than one level.First of all, it proves that lead singer Natalie Maines’ anti-Bush comments three years ago did not harm the band’s career-as some had predicted. True, country radio programmers turned their back on the threesome. Claiming their listeners were still angry about Natalie’s remarks, they ignored the band’s first single “Not Ready To Make Nice”.But in the end, it didn’t matter. They got exposure other ways (satellite radio, the internet)-and fans flocked to stores to buy the disc (note to radio programmers: the Chicks also debuted at #1 on the country charts.)More importantly, though, the success speaks to an even greater, though far less publicized issue in music. All too often, it seems that art is sacrificed for commerce. The conventional wisdom is that formulaic songs with safe subject matter will appeal to the largest number of people and therefore boost the fortunes of the sagging music industry.But leave it to the country mavericks to maim that theory as well. “Take The Long Way” makes a statement. It is bold and adventurous, tackling topics from infertility to the aforementioned anti-Bush comments, hardly the innocuous love songs, catchy hip hop and middle of the road rock that currently dominate the airwaves.And no matter what your politics — it makes you think and feel. And when you get down to it — isn’t that what good art — be it music or movies — is supposed to do? Let’s hope that other artists follow suit (Pearl Jam and Neil Young also have recently released thought-provoking albums.)As for the Dixie Chicks — see you at the Grammys.

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