The Dixie Chicks started winning Grammys in 1999. They were nominated for Best New Artist, even though their then-current album, Wide Open Spaces, was their fourth. It was no coincidence that they started winning Grammys after Natalie Maines joined the band. It wasn’t just Maines’ presence … the band was ready to take steps towards more crossover appeal, and Maines helped in that regard, but I suspect the steps would have been taken with or without Maines.
They spent several years as one of the biggest acts in country music, and eventually in popular music in general. They never shied away from controversy, from “Goodbye Earl” (a humorous song about murdering an abusive husband) to fights with their record label. The hits kept on coming, the awards kept on coming … they were an extremely successful act.
Then, as I’m sure everyone reading this remembers, in 2003, at a concert in London, Natalie Maines made the following statement: “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
What followed can be found in the film Shut Up & Sing. There were death threats … radio stations quit playing their music … many of their fellow country musicians spoke out against them, most notably Toby Keith (but not the Okie from Muskogee, Merle Haggard, who said the women were the subjects of a “verbal witch-hunt”).
Of course, the anti-Bush sentiments did give the band new fans as well … people who, to my mind, were less lovers of the Dixie Chicks than they were haters of the President.
The culmination of this part of their career came in 2006, with the release of the album Taking the Long Way, and specifically the single “Not Ready to Make Nice.” I find the Dixie Chicks appealing enough … I don’t turn the station when they come on the radio, although I don’t have many of their songs on my hard drive. But, as the Shut Up and Sing film makes clear, the attitude of “Not Ready to Make Nice” was risky and the song itself was powerful.
Taking the Long Way, released in 2006, is as of this writing the last album of new material the Dixie Chicks have released.