Music

Natalie Maines: Mother

These diverse songs allow Maines to showcase her uncanny knack for delivering a wealth of emotional information without over-playing her hand.


Natalie Maines

Mother

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

There’s a poignant scene in Shut Up and Sing, the 2006 documentary on the Dixie Chicks, in which Emily Robison and Martie McGuire openly muse about their fear that their erstwhile country band is being pulled into rock music, something which they feel is an uneasy fit for their fiddles and mandolins. They’ve hooked up with veteran rock and hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, have begun to work with songwriters like Gary Louris and Sheryl Crowe, and (perhaps most alarming of all) their lead singer, the brash and unstoppable force that is Natalie Maines, seems to fit this new sound like a glove. While listening to some tape of their day’s work, they debate the reasons why good bands so often break up, and this insecurity comes to the fore: “Well, he could go solo. That’s the thing a lead singer could hang over the band’s head,” McGuire concludes. And, amazingly, Maines doesn’t respond; she just sits there with a faraway look in her eyes.

Was Mother the record Natalie Maines was imagining in that moment? Whatever the case, now we have it, and for the most part, this is a good thing. But it is so hard not to see this as a grand missed opportunity. As a straight-ahead rock album, Mother eschews country tropes almost entirely, allowing Maines the space to explore, to try on new sounds. New, to her, that is. There is little about this record that feels fresh in any wider sense, or that feels like a musical statement beyond the fairly un-world-shaking “Natalie Maines can rock!” which, let’s face it, who would find surprising? Maines has, through four excellent records with her band, proven herself to be an elite singer, an indomitable performer, and among the most electrifyingly fearless big-name artists in the industry. So, why does this album slip more than once into material and performances that feel like walkthroughs, like afterthoughts?

Mother opens with an exciting one-two-three combination. First is the terrific Eddie Vedder-penned “Without You”, an intimate pop song boasting an endlessly catchy chorus. This is followed by the thrilling jolt of a cover of “Mother” (Pink Floyd’s famous conflation of the Oedipal complex with the horrors of rock stardom), featuring a vocal reading which feels loving in places where Waters’ original vocal was just sneering (although I am not sure if this is a good thing or not). The record then delivers a total knockout with veteran songwriter Dan Wilson’s lovely ode to day-seizing that is “Free Life”, a characteristically spot-on bit of songcraft which Maines inhabits completely.

All the more baffling, then, that Mother follows this up with a deeply lame bit of throwaway rock on “Silver Bell” by the usually reliable Patty Griffin. Sure, Natalie Maines can rock, but that doesn’t mean she has to sing a formulaic “rock” song to prove it. What’s worse is that she goes back to this well again a few songs later, on the pretty execrable “Trained” (one of a pair of songs by co-producer Ben Harper), a bit of uninspired and formulaic arena “rock” that feels badly out of place on an album otherwise full of strong writing.

And what strong writing. From a vibrant interpretation of the Jayhawks’ classic singalong “I’d Run Away” to the terrific mid-tempo Petty-esque rock of “Come Crying to Me” (a Dixie Chicks and Gary Louris co-write that didn’t make it onto Taking the Long Way) to the majesty of the closing barnburner “Take it on Faith”, these songs allow Maines to showcase her range, her impressive ability to construct mood with a few well-placed notes, her uncanny knack for delivering a wealth of emotional information without over-playing her hand.

The album is at its strongest when, as on its centerpiece cover of Jeff Buckley’s otherworldy “Lover You Should’ve Come Over”, Maines’ extraordinary vocals are allowed to run freely over material that is up to her power. This take on what I would have told you was an un-coverable song – so difficult to try to re-invent a masterpiece, and usually such folly – is so moving, so deeply realized, so gut-punchingly raw, I actually found myself lying down by the time it was over on my first time through.

My god, I thought, she can do anything.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.