Okay, the Chicks are already a phenomenon. They are cute and sassy and they can sing some brilliant three-part harmonies. We learned all of this on their first album. But can the Chicks avoid the dreaded sophomore slump that haunts so many artists these days (particularly country artists). Well, the verdict is in. The Chick’s second album Fly not only overcomes the sophomore slump; it transcends the country genre to become one of the best pop albums of the year.
Fly is masterful in its ability to combine traditional country instrumentation with an upbeat rock and roll attitude and the vocal harmony of the Chicks. Fiddles, twangy acoustic guitars and yes, steel guitars (ugh) abound on Fly, but they are used in ways that distort traditional interpretations of these instruments. Solos are kept to a minimum and all instruments are used to center attention on the main focus of any Dixie Chicks song, the vocals. The vocals are also traditional in terms of their structure (and the ever-present country twang) but the Chicks have the pipes to push beyond the traditional boundaries of country music harmony.
Unfortunately, the songs on Fly are often not up to the quality of the Chicks vocals. “Hello Mr. Heartache” sounds like something that could have been sung at the Grand Ole Opry about 40 years ago. I suppose that’s a compliment or an insult depending on your perspective. From my perspective it simply means this song is not in keeping with songs like “Sin Wagon,” in which the Chicks announce they are looking for a little “mattress dancin’” and “Goodbye Earl,” which is probably the catchiest song ever written about murdering your husband. These songs demonstrate, despite their outwardly traditional sound, how the Chicks are pushing for and attracting an edgier pop-oriented audience. Fly illustrates that the Dixie Chicks have successfully figured out how to push the boundaries of country music while continuing to embrace the traditional sound of its past.
// Notes from the Road
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