Natalie Maines released a new album today called “Mother,” a mix of rock ‘n’ roll downers and uppers and some covers. “Without You,” originally by Eddie Vedder, has Maines’ voice at its core, laying bare some of those emotions that we haven’t really tended to in the six years since the Dixie Chicks went on hiatus.
The video, out today too, is even more tame than the take, with a performance shots, some studio goofs, some hugs and fans and a few fashion shots that highlight her beautiful new ‘do and her self-aware isolation.
(Watch the video exclusively at EW.)
OK, so let’s unpackage the latter a little bit: this is Maines’ first solo rodeo, which makes an exceptional job of highlighting her vocals. Even before the ‘Chicks, Maines leaned rock and R&B, even as she performed in other country groups. Her choices on “Mother” — including selections from Jeff Buckley, Pink Floyd and her album producer Ben Harper — here reflect an appreciation for range and drama, and yet the collection is mostly harmless.
Harmless, which is a word that many would never apply to Natalie Maines. It was 10 years ago that Maines criticized the then-president George W. Bush and protested the Iraq war; in the years that followed, she and her cohorts Emily Robison and Martie Maguire as the Dixie Chicks wore those political leaning and rejecting the rejectors with documentary “Shut Up and Sing.” Maines refused to “back down” with acclaimed “Taking the Long Way” with its prominent 2006 single “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger,” reads the lyrics to that song, which then points its way back to Maines and her new “Mother.” The title and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” cover weren’t selected out of total coincidence: in a way, it’s yet another political statement. The Roger Waters tune is ultimately 1) about a rock star and his (single) mom 2) about overprotection and isolation and 3) exercises a skepticism on government and the governing majority.
These are all things Maines knows too well. What I find more interesting is that Maines sings “Mother” as a mother (of two) and a rock star, giving it a woman’s sense of ownership and ideal. Single mothers in the ’70s and Maines as a country singer with a liberal bent share difficulties as pariahs — and also happen to be alienated females with a fast-tracked coming-of-age.
As the backlash of the Dixie Chicks continued throughout the 2000s, I had no doubt that some of it was fueled by their gender in the country marketplace. “Dixie Sluts” and “Ditzy Chicks” became choice insults from the era, for example, and they shielded attacks on their abilities as mothers and wives. Country killed Maines’ country career, but on her new album Maines herself has scrapped country for rock, notably on songs penned by mostly men (though Maines co-writes, a Patty Griffin song is included and Maguire and Robison collaborate momentarily), in a male-dominated genre. Even though some songs can be interpreted mostly genderless, Maines again finds herself in a platform position not in spite of her gender, but because of it.
I find her voice and her “voice” powerful, even though “Mother” on the whole isn’t a terribly strong record. Just like when she and the Dixie Chicks stirred up country homogeneity, I’m just glad she’s there.
The Dixie Chicks have been on hiatus from the studio for six years and from the road for three. Maguire and Robison continue to record under Court Yard Hounds and plan a new release this summer.