Texas’ most rebellious Chick goes solo, rocking covers big-time on ‘Mother’


RICH LOPEZ  | Contributing Writer

Most great contemporary music trios contain a budding artist, eventually ready to take a crack at solo superstardom. You often see it coming: In Genesis, both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins went on to bigger and better things; Sting broke free from The Police; Beyonce was really just preparing to become Beyonce while serving time in Destiny’s Child.

The latest unsurprising addition to that list is Natalie Maines, the headstrong lead singer for The Dixie Chicks.

Don’t worry, the Chicks are just “on hiatus,” as Martie Maguire and Emily Robison and Maines still remain a group despite successful side projects — Maguire and Robison’s Court Yard Hounds, and now Mother, Maines’ venture into the waters of Timberlake.

But what a strange entry it is. Rocker Ben Harper co-produced the disc, taking Maines into rocker-chick territory. (She’s teased fans by loudly proclaiming her disinterest in country, saying her first release would be rock.) Her genre jumping isn’t what’s odd; it’s that Mother is mostly covers. What Maines does with those tunes, though, is magic.

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 11.11.48 AMMuch like Annie Lennox’s Medusa, Maines demands ownership of these songs; they reflect her voice literally and figuratively. When “Without You” opens, she takes Eddie Vedder’s track to a different place because, you hear she’s still healing from her famous 2003 controversy. But she is also slyly stepping away from her band when she sings I’ll fly when you cry / lift us out of this landslide? In an instant, she declares her independence.

She strikes more gold with the title track, extending her message. Maines cleverly balances both maternal tenderness and defiant energy. When she croons Mother, do you think she’s good enough for me, parent or not, that feeling is immediately recognizable.

Maines approaches her covers with abandon. They say what she’s clearly feeling and more so than even she does. She co-penned “Come Cryin’ To Me” with Maguire and Robison (along with The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris), but the ballad was empty and said far less than any of the previous tracks. With her stunning voice, Maines lost out in properly checking her emotional side on the slower entries. Jeff Buckley’s “Lover Should’ve Come Over” was a missed opportunity, but in this case, she overdid it.

Maines isn’t short on dramatics, but they fare much better in the muscular Semisonic cover of “Free Life,” which proves that a gospel choir never does a song wrong. The harmonies amid the rich guitars in The Jayhawks’ “I’d Run Away” is so potent, it’s easy to yearn for another five minutes of it.

There is nary a misstep in Mother. The sound doesn’t recall The Dixie Chicks but you do hear the foundation there and her covers are brilliant selections that are never obvious, but never pretentious. The Chicks have confirmed some live dates this summer, so the ladies will be back together soon. But Maines undoubtedly makes her presence known that she can hold her own and be one helluva mother.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 10, 2013.