A decade is a long time for a musical artist to remembered primarily for publicly bashing and apologizing for a sitting President in a time of war. (Case in point: most of you would already know who I’m talking about, even without reading the article title.) Certainly Natalie Maines, the outspoken vocalist from the Dixie Chicks, must hope that after her years of silence, the release of her solo effort Mother will finally shift the focus away from her political views and back to her music, where it belongs.
Listening to this record, I’d say she’s got a good shot at it. Fully deserves it, in fact.
Quietly showing the proverbial finger to the country music community that distanced itself from Maines after the, um, incident, Mother is a rock album, by any standard of measure. The track list shouts this almost as loudly as the music itself, reading at times like a catalog of favorite classic rock tunes. And the thing is, Maines doesn’t simply cover these songs—she embraces them, and flat out owns them. (Let’s face it—it takes some moxie to make a famous Pink Floyd ballad your title track.) Whether it’s her folk-rock take on Eddie Vedder’s ukelele piece “Without You,” her passionate rendition of Patty Griffin’s “Silver Bell” or the haunting emotion she conveys on Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should Have Come Over,” Maines interprets these songs with such aplomb that someone unfamiliar with the tunes would assume she’d written them. And thanks in part to the production expertise of none other than Ben Harper (who also contributes songs to the track list), Natalie Maines positions herself on this album not as a country artist crossing over to rock, but as a veteran vocalist who sounds like she’s been doing this type of music her whole life.
While Mother is mainly an album of non-originals, it’s worth noting that the two originals co-written by Maines and Harper are among the record’s most poignant. “Vein In Vain” is a heart-tugging ballad about addiction where Maines laments, “Didn’t mean to let you down again / The body will always win.” And the closing track “Take It On Faith,” a personal ode to reconciliation, could easily become a signature tune for this chapter in Maines’ career.
Thankfully, despite the unintended controversy that once surrounded her and has haunted her since, Maines doesn’t really use Mother as a soapbox to vent. Rather, she turns it into a platform to showcase her remarkable vocal chops, living believably within the songs she has chosen. As a result, she’s created an outstanding album that serves to re-center the conversation around her talent. Say what you will about her outspokenness—as a singer, Natalie Maines has a voice that demands and deserves to be heard. This album could easily rekindle her career.