Pros: Some nice banjo and fiddle work, one or two decent tracks
Cons: Generally not as good as Dixie Chicks, naff lyrics, too bland
The Bottom Line: Disappointing album from Dixie Chick duo with one or two bright spots
I'm a long time Dixie Chicks fan so I was intrigued to learn that two of the trio, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, were forming a side project and would be releasing an album. I say intrigued rather than excited because the third Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines, is my favourite and is, in my opinion, the driving force behind the band. As well as providing the back vocals that temper Maines's strong voice, these two play banjo and fiddle respectively. I've always thought of them having nice enough voices, but I consider myself a big fan of Natalie Maines whose voice perfectly suits the Dixie Chicks' brand of country.
This album comprises twelve original tracks and those familiar with the Dixie Chicks will probably agree that Maguire and Robison don't really break any new ground with these compositions. In fact I'd really have to say that these songs are nowhere near as good as Dixie Chick songs. Lyrically there are a couple of stand outs but overall they are quite bland numbers. Musically it's interesting that they seem to have (at least partly) ditched the fiddle and banjo and veered more towards the electric country rock sound of Sheryl Crow et al. This, I feel, is their downfall here because their voices, while perfectly pleasant, are not very distinctive and in combination with the rockier sound they could be any of a number of middle of the road vocalists.
Fortunately this isn't typical of all the tracks: there are a couple of excellent numbers. "The Coast", the album's second track, is a lovely fresh up beat song about the pleasure (surprise, surprise) of being at the sea. For the most part it's a really catchy jangly song but it is spoiled a bit by an awful Jeff Lynne type guitar solo near the end. If it had been up to me this song would have been the opening track as the one that was chosen, "Skyline", does them no favours: the problem I have with this one is that I hate Sheryl Crow and this screams Sheryl Crow. It's a gentle acoustic number which is completely at odds with the rest of the album and would have been better placed somewhere near the end. I have to admit to usually skipping it.
"See you in the spring" is my favourite number. It starts off with some wonderful banjo picking which put me in mind of the brilliant blue grass band Crooked Still. The song is a duet with Jakob Dylan (yes, he does a famous dad) and his voice works beautifully with Emily's.
"Ain't No Son of Mine" should be a great track. It starts off with a great bluegrass vibe but suddenly becomes a typical American country rock radio number, full of pomposity and utterly over blown. The song is about a man who reacts badly to learning that is son is gay.
Thematically it's Dixie Chick material through and through but I just don't think the sound suits the sentiment and I shouldn't think, give the Dixie Chicks already controversial relationship with the American media, that this will garner much radio airplay. I would love to hear Natalie Maines sing this song instead; it might just work with a stronger voice.
"I miss you" starts of in a promising way with some pedal steel (always guaranteed to get me excited) but quickly tails off with some pretty naff slide guitar and some shocking lyrics "I miss you, I can't wait to kiss you". Pam Ayres eat your heart out.
"Then Again" has shades of Crow again but is rescued by a really great fiddle solo and some excellent harmonies; unfortunately some really irritating "da da das" drag it down again. "It didn't make a sound" uses some really lovely banjo and is one of the more radio friendly tracks until it inexplicably adds some horrible Jools Holland style piano.
Time after time it's the same story. The style doesn't suit the sentiment or the vocals don't match the style. This isn't an awful album but it's nowhere near as good as anything by the Dixie Chicks and it's always going to be compared with the other band. The songs that work the best are those penned by Robison following her divorce from country musician Charlie Robison. However these are gentle ballads and pale into insignificance with anything the Dixie Chicks have put out.
If you like Sheryl Crow or Shawn Colvin you might just like this one but be warned there are moments when you think "Why did they do that?" There are tinges of country but it's not quite far enough down that road for my approval. This album will stay on my iPod and will get occasional listens but I can't deny I was disappointed.