Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dixie Chicks 5 Grammy Wins!

Politics aside, Chicks worthy

12:00 AM CST on Tuesday, February 13, 2007

By MARIO TARRADELL / The Dallas Morning News
mtarradell@dallasnews.com mtarradell@dallasnews.com

Natalie Maines didn't mince words Sunday night during the 49th annual Grammy Awards. Upon accepting the Dixie Chicks' album-of-the-year trophy for Taking the Long Way, she retorted in her usually sly, succinct style:

"I think people are using their freedom of speech here tonight with all these awards," she said while sharing the fifth Grammy of the evening with fellow Chicks Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. "We get the message. I'm very humbled."

Ms. Maines humbled? That's a switch. But the Dallas-formed trio's clean sweep carries greater significance than mere pop-culture fodder. It's water-cooler talk, of course, but with plenty of deep subtext.

For the Chicks it caps a trying year filled with the release of a polarizing disc, a tour that struggled to sell tickets in many Southern states where they were once country music darlings, and a big-screen documentary, Shut Up & Sing, that couldn't find a mainstream audience.

The trophies officially proclaim the band as respected popular music stars, not just niche country artists. Liberal-thinking Hollywood honchos aren't solely responsible for the Chicks' landslide. Their wins may have been politically motivated, but Nashville country music-industry types who are voting members of the Grammy academy cast ballots too, including for record, song and album of the year.

I wouldn't be surprised if the same record-label suits who trumpet right-leaning artists such as Gretchen Wilson, Craig Morgan and Montgomery Gentry, to name a few, secretly supported the Chicks.

The bottom line: Great music got its just rewards, no matter what the motivation this time.

The Grammys, like all award shows, are subjective. There are usually a million reasons other than artistic merit for choosing winners. Music quality seems to frequently land last on the list of considerations. How else to explain poser R&B-lite duo Milli Vanilli's best-new-artist victory in 1989, or Celine Dion taking album of the year for her schmaltzy Falling Into You in 1996?

This time, the trophy went to deserving music. Yet too many, as a knee-jerk reaction to the Chicks, consider Taking the Long Way a political record.

It's a personal manifesto. The Chicks bared their souls in the space of a compact disc. There are songs about infertility ("So Hard"), which sisters Ms. Robison and Ms. Maguire grappled with; Alzheimer's ("Silent House"), which struck Ms. Maines' grandmother; as well as the perils of celebrity ("Everybody Knows"), motherhood ("Lullaby") and a plea for an end to violence ("I Hope").

The disc's lightning-rod track, "Not Ready to Make Nice," summarizes the aftermath of Ms. Maines' infamous anti-Bush remark in London nearly four years ago. And "The Long Way Around" alludes to it: "It's been two long years now/Since the top of the world came crashing down." "Lubbock or Leave It" deals with Ms. Maines' sudden pariah status.

Still, that's just three songs out of 14, folks. You can't create a concept record with a mere three tracks. So in the media frenzy fueled by "Not Ready to Make Nice" and its startling, imagery-filled video, the rest of the tunes got lost in the melee.

The Grammy triumphs should shed more light on the record and also fuel sales. On Ama zon.com, Taking the Long Way spiked 1,500 percent, sending it from No. 32 to No. 2. Surely all this attention will fatten the CD's 1.8 million sales figure.

Ultimately it makes no difference why the Grammy voters checked Dixie Chicks on their ballots. When the masses hear powerful music, everybody wins.

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