Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Natalie Maines Mother 2013

Natalie Maines released this debut solo rock CD last year to generally positive reviews.

You'll remember Maines as the lead voice of The Dixie Chicks, whose four studio albums represent some of the best contemporary country music released in the last twenty years. The same band with the authentic instrumental talents and exceptional harmonies of sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. And Maines' perfect country pipes, with a touch of nasal twang and an abundance of Texas heart.

And now, with Dixie Chicks on indefinite hiatus, Maines comes up with a rock record. I have to admit that the idea sounded a tad misguided to me, just because she really is so very good at country music. But I looked forward to hearing that voice, and figured she deserved a listen.

Positives: She can still sing, and she sounds great. She can apply her voice to rock better than I thought she might. Dan Wilson's sentimental Free Life gets a good reading, and the Gary Louris co-write Come Crying To Me is a good mid-tempo rocker.

Negatives, to varying degrees: Produced by Ben Harper and Natalie Maines. Song selection. Ben Harper and band provide instrumental and vocal backing on all of the tracks.

Why have Ben Harper produce? Or maybe the question is: Why have Ben Harper produce the entire record? She could have used more help, if only to add some diversity to the whole affair. I could think of any number of producers that could have helped. Harper and band do an OK job, but it's a middling rock record at best. You have to put some of that on the producers to a degree, especially when the artist isn't a songwriter.

The song selection is questionable. There's plenty of big arena choruses, and she can sing them, but the sensitive beginnings of those anthems all sound way better in her voice than the big rock that they become. Harper's Trained is a funky duet that is formulaic, and his Take It On Faith that closes the record is overblown. Covers of Pink Floyd and Eddie Vedder sound like she's trying too hard to do everything, but the band and the production make everything sound the same anyway. Marc Olsen and Gary Louris' I'd Run Away is a great song, but to compete with the Jayhawks' original, she sure could use Martie and Emily on the harmonies, as opposed to herself and Harper.

I know I have to accept that it's a rock record and take it as that, without comparing it to the Dixie Chicks output, but that is hard. The Chicks made very very good country music, and the three voices blended so incredibly. They were immaculately produced by first rate producers, and there were very few, if any, really weak songs. Any time anyone judges a new record, the artist's past work can't be entirely neglected.

This is a good rock record, solid and worth hearing, but certainly not a great one. You won't be listening to it years from now, it just isn't that record. The singer has a great voice, though.

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