Natalie Maines - Mother
There are few, if any, all-girl bands in the US as big as the Dixie Chicks. Currently on hiatus, they’ve had massive success in their own country - number one singles and albums, multiple Grammys (13 in fact) - without having the type of crossover appeal that has seen acts like Taylor Swift move from country to pop and make it big over here. Not adverse to saying what they think, the Dixie Chicks also provided one of the best examples of why it's not always in your best interest to mix politics with music, when their opinions on the war in Iraq damaged their standing in the US so badly they’ve still never quite regained lost ground. Maybe that’s why this is the first new music in six years from any of the Chicks. Lead singer Natalie Maines treads a well worn path with her first solo album and it’s always a little worrying when you see a track listing from an established artist and you spy a dubious sprinkling of cover versions. Here, Maines leans on all things rock including songs by some of the genre’s most venerable artists, with the most surprising thing is how the blending of various artist's songs, including the likes of Eddie Vedder and Pink Floyd, works rather well. It helps that the covers here aren’t of the most popular songs by each artist; that’s not to say they’re obscure, but there’s no ‘Jeremy’ or ‘Comfortably Numb’ here. And it’s refreshing that Maines has chosen to move in a different direction from the core Dixie Chicks sound. This is a far rockier album, as you’d expect with production by guitar wizard Ben Harper. In a rather impressive feat Maines manages to re-introduce a Pearl Jam-y sound into Eddie Vedder’s solo ukulele song ‘Without You’, with Mains coming on like a female Vedder. Conversely ‘Mother’ is a pretty straight-on cover of the original, albeit with great execution. She hasn’t completely written off the country influences, the twang is still there in the Dixie Chick-ers voice on ‘Free Life’, and ‘Silver Bell’ is brilliant with its mix of country rock guitars, prominent bass and great hook. Out of left field there’s a total change of pace with an extraordinary version of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’, a brooding, slow burn of a love song that Maines fills with power and passion. ‘Vein In Vain’ continues the slower, contemplative vibe before ‘Trained’ smashes that feeling into next week with 2m 39s of hard edged blues-rock, all scuzzy guitars and two part harmonies. ‘Come Cryin’ To Me’ was apparently too rocky for the last Dixie Chicks album so makes its debut here, and is just OK. The Jayhawks' ‘I’d Run Away’ shows you can’t keep a girl from her country, though it has a defiantly hard edge. Whilst the drama of moody strings, pedal steel guitar and soaring voice on ‘Take It On Faith’ rounds the album off with a crescendo of feeling. Passion and commitment to the music runs through the album. This isn’t just a vanity project: Mother is about excellent musicians playing at the top of their game, directed by Harper and led by Maines, who makes the transition to solo rock vocalist with style.