Benny's World

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The New Outlaws of Country Music

Back in the 70's, Willie Nelson, Jessie Coulter, and Waylon Jennings called themselves the Outlaws. One of the reasons is that they decided they didn't have to live in Music City to make music and didn't have to be married to the Establishment anymore. Willie moved back to Texas and through him, a whole new progressive country-- grassroots type-- music flourished around Austin and Kerrville. PBS's Austin City Limits was born and is still kickin' with artists of all kinds, but mainly ones who were influenced by Willie and Waylon. Some of my favorite artists were part of that movement such as Nancy Griffith, Lyle Lovett, and Joe Ely.

Some of these outlaws' kids have grown up and in some instances, have become the new Outlaws. In the case of Joe Ely and his band which included Lloyd Maines, a very fine musician, one of the daughters of Maines, Natalie, joined the Dixie Chicks in the 90's and they have become a very successful band.

Dixie Chicks have been the subject of controversy in the past 2 years, after Maines said she was embarrassed her President was from her state of Texas on the eve of the Iraq War. Uh-oh. Talkin' about politics. Many country music fans who generally are supporters of the Republican party, got angry, called Clear Channels and a few other radio station chains, or even locals, and requested they not play Dixie Chicks any more. CD sales went down and even death threats were sent to Maines. They backed off and went into the "Easy Silence" (one of the tunes on their new CD).

But the Chicks are back--and I think they will rebound big. They are on this week's Time magazine cover. They did an interview with 60 Minutes, which looked a bit biased to me, and just kept attacking Maines. She fought back, and decided to be, just like their new release, "Not Ready to Make Nice." Their new CD, Taking the Long Way, is terrific. It's a very personal album for them, but also it is about the hypocracy of many country music critics, listeners, and has a very progressive viewpoint. Lots of social commentary, especially "Lubbock or Leave it". That song has angered a lot of Texas Techans. I am TTU grad, and that song doesn't offend me in the least. I am from Lubbock too. My only comment is that the music, which is very Joe Ely/Lloyd Maines influenced, overshadows the singing and the words aren't easy to understand unless you read them as you listen. The title cut and "Not Ready to Make Nice" do resonate with me.

The Dixie Chicks are the new outlaws of country music. And it's great that they are "taking the long way" around all of the hypocracy. Long time listeners of country music can choose not to buy their music or play it on their damn Clear Channel stations. The Chicks know there is a new audience out there. Progressives are buying their music, via iTunes, Circuit City, Target, or other places. But whoever thought progressive country music would take on a new meaning in our country.


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