When the two sisters of the Dixie Chicks formed their own duo, Court Yard Hounds, in 2010, it was only a matter of time before Natalie Maines did her own thing as well. Today, that thing is a reality.
Maines released today her first solo effort, entitled Mother, to some anticipation after seven quiet years on the scene. The last Dixie Chicks album, Taking the Long Way, was released in 2006, and the Chicks have been on hiatus ever since.
It’s almost impossible not to compare Natalie Maines’ solo effort to her work with the Dixie Chicks as well as the work of other country frontwomen who have attempted solo efforts. (It doesn’t help that the album actually contains a Dixie Chicks song never released).
Halfway through the album, you can tell that it isn’t a Dixie Chicks record. Although it has similar elements to the phenomenal set, Taking The Long Way, it lacks some of the energy and pizzazz that Maines had in combination with the sisters.
In that respect, it is similar to the efforts of Paulette Carlson after she left Highway 101 and Heidi Newfield after she parted ways with Trick Pony. At the same time though, both of those artists tried to keep a similar format to their music. Maines rejects that plan. It is perhaps still difficult for her to embrace a country fan base after “the incident” a decade ago.
The album, though clearly influenced by both roots rock and to some extent her country past, is a rock album at its heart, devoid of the signature fiddle and banjo that the Chicks’ albums so readily employed. That alone makes it an interesting album that is worth the listen.
The set opens with a cover of an Eddie Vetter song from his 2011 set, Ukulele Songs. The track, "Without You," provides a solid start to the album that sets the tone for the entire album. The song’s message makes a statement that this is nothing like the defiant theme throughout Taking The Long Way.
Made almost entirely of covers, Maines includes the title track, Pink Floyd’s “Mother” and Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Other.” Though both songs are clearly intended for a male voice, Maines preserves the lyrics. Renditions of both songs have a type of sadness to them that you didn’t see on the previous Chicks albums.
“Free Life” and “Vain in Vein” continue the same quiet production, tame vocals and lovelorn ballad-style interpretation as the opening track. These work to expose a softer facet to the often fiery Maines.
Tracks like “Silver Bell” and “Trained” have a strangely similar sound to rockier efforts from the Dixie Chicks such as “Lubbock or Leave It” or “Hole In My Head.” Unfortunately, like previous efforts, they fall a little flat. Her voice is still superb, but there’s something weird about hearing her sing in that style.
“Come Cryin’ To Me,” the sole Dixie Chicks song on the album, is arguably the best song.
The closing track, “Take It On Faith,” is the only song written by Maines expressly for the new album. Like the opening track, it is a song about quiet reassurance to a lover to “Take it on faith / I will be there when the pain comes.” The track is reminiscent of something Adele might have included on her landmark album, 21.
All in all, Mother is not a disappointment, even though there is something missing. It leaves you yearning for more music from the Dixie Chicks, but who knows how far away that will be. Rumors are currently circulating that the Court Yard Hounds are also working on an album, but no date for its release has yet been set.
Maines exposes a side of her that hasn’t been seen since the raw vulnerability that was exposed on the acoustic set, Home. Mother isn’t quite the album that Home was, but it certainly leaves a strong impression for what Maines can accomplish, even as a solo artist.