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TV Preview: Dixie Chicks come 'Home' to roost in NBC special

Monday, December 09, 2002

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's an uncomfortable question, one that the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines hasn't anticipated during a media conference call promoting their new TV special. If their unorthodox new album, "Home," had been their first, she was asked, would the group have even been signed?

The Dixie Chicks, from left: Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison. (James Minchin, Associated Press)

"An Evening With the Dixie Chicks"

WHEN: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. on NBC.

STARRING: Natalie Maines, Marti Maguire and Emily Robison.

"Jeez. I hadn't thought about that," she says. There's a long pause on the line. "Probably not."

With two wildly successful country-pop albums under their belts, Maines and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire were already rich, famous and tired. After legally wiggling out of their recording contract and setting up their own label, they took a year off from their career to work on their families. Maines had a baby. Robison and her husband decided to start a family, too. For fun, the Chicks recorded an unconventional album in Maines' father's Texas studio -- heavy on the traditional instruments, performing much of it themselves instead of hiring session pros. With a lot of originals, two bluegrass tunes, an instrumental and a story song written in the voice of a dead man, "Home" was the anti-Nashville country album. The Chicks were more surprised than anyone when it shot straight to No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 charts. It's remained well inside the Top 20 for the past three months.

"We did a lot of things differently [on that album]," she says. "It's not just that we didn't do it in Nashville. We weren't really making a record. We felt absolutely no pressure -- originally it was supposed to be all cover tunes, really low key. It was a really selfish endeavor that we did for ourselves. We didn't dream the thing would be on the radio. ... I don't think we could have made this record first. Really, it wasn't even what we wanted to do then. But I think our first two records helped us to make this album."

It isn't remarkable that a mainstream country band has gone traditional. But when "Home" was released after a long absence of new Chicks' material, demand was so high that commercial radio had no choice but to play it. The industry was knocked out of its boots. Listeners didn't just like what they heard -- they loved it.

"I'm not someone who categorizes music," says Maines, who fronted a rock 'n' roll band before joining the Chicks. "I see so much rock influence in traditional country but not in pop-country. Although some people might say that we've done some of it, I don't really like pop-country. I think bluegrass is so much like rock 'n' roll. It's one of the only kinds of music where people can just wail on their instruments and rip into solos. Lyrically, it comes from a deeper, truer place."

The NBC special airs nine days before Christmas, but it's not a holiday show. It's more like a gift to the fans who fell in love with the traditional sounds of "Home." The hour-long show includes six new tunes and three from previous discs. Maguire looks about the same since their last release, but Maines' closely cropped 'do has grown wild, and she has retained a few pounds since the baby. Robison's banjo obscured a body overflowing with child.

"When we [taped] the show, we performed the whole album in its entirety and four songs from previous albums," says Maines. "But even those, we wanted to revamp so they fit with the new material. It's all acoustic, even the old material. ... I think we felt a little more pressure because we haven't toured with the new songs yet. You make the song sound good in the studio, and then you have to recapture that live."

John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.

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