Maines’ rootsy ‘Mother’ rocks
All parts catharsis and remember-me, Natalie Maines hits one heck of a welcome home note on the very first song of her very first solo album. The cut is called “Without You,” written by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder; the comeback LP is called “Mother,” the first we’ve heard from the former Dixie Chick in seven, long years.
“Without You” is warm, catchy, likable, and Maines sounds like she’s truly enjoying her work again, something that couldn’t be said about the last couple of Chicks albums. Straight off the bat she’s vibrant, especially backed by the woozy slide guitar of the great Ben Harper, who also co-produced “Mother.” If she has no interest in country music anymore – and, let’s be honest, who can blame her? – so be it; she’s a roots-rocker now, and the dusty old shoe fits just fine.
As lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Maines had a holler twice her size. But that was before she ripped George W. Bush 10 years ago, before the backlash, before the Dixie Chicks stopped making joyful country albums, before she basically left fame in the dust.
If “Mother” isn’t exactly a saucy return to her robust Dixie days, neither is she withdrawing into difficult songs that muted her elastic voice like a shroud. Harper pushes Maines on a raunchy cover of Patty Griffin’s sour-love stomp “Silver Bell” and his own wicked “Trained.”Most of the album is midtempo and slower, including a devastatingly drawn out version of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over.” Maines’ voice has become sturdier, less yelpy over the years, if no longer as dynamically octave-spanning as when she was 24 belting out “Wide Open Spaces.” But on this lonely-guy doozy, the 38-year-old proves that she can still put a breathtaking read on a song.
Not everything sticks: Dan Wilson’s “Free Life” is the sort of muddled introspection Maines is too often drawn to, and the title trackdoesn’t warrant repeat listens.
More often than not, though, this is the Natalie Maines we choose to remember. And if you’re looking for clues to her future, check out the chummy vibe of “Come Cryin’ to Me,” a grindy, bluesy port in the storm. It’s all about forgiveness and fortitude and knowing “how to fly on the wings of disaster.” Co-writers on the tune? None other than Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, a.k.a. the other Dixie Chicks. Turn it up, and cross your fingers.
Sean Daly/Tampa Bay Times