While she might be known for being the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines is perhaps more known for being outspoken against President Bush at a concert in London. Since then, nothing has been the same. Seven years since the release of Taking The Long Way, the Dixie Chicks’ last recording together, she resurfaces with her first solo album and an attempt at re-entering the music world by moving beyond it all with Mother.
The album’s opening lyrics seem appropriate for where Natalie has been for the nearly the last decade as she sings on the Eddie Vedder-penned Without You. She sings “I’ll grow when you grow/Let me loosen up the blindfold/I’ll fly when you cry/Lift us out of this landslide,” which could be taken multiple ways depending on to whom it’s directed. The song is a mid-tempo rocker with a hint of country influence similar to that of Voice Inside My Head, a highlight from Taking The Long Way.
Along with Without You, that sound is also pulled into Come Cryin’ To Me and I’d Run Away, two songs that writing collaborator Gary Louris had a hand in writing. The latter was originally recorded by his band the Jayhawks while the former was with the Dixie Chicks. Perhaps during their sessions for their last album, where Louris co-wrote four tracks on it.
Natalie sounds her best on those country-influenced rock tunes and while she has a great voice, which she has proven enough during her time with the Dixie Chicks, it isn’t suited for certain songs. When singing a song that requires a certain level of soul, Natalie sounds flat and lifeless. Her cover of Jeff Buckley‘s Lover, You Should’ve Come Over just hovers there, where the original is a song you can completely get lost in. She delivers the goods but she isn’t feeling what she’s singing and with a song like this, it’s meant to be felt rather than merely heard.
She often comes across sounding stiff such as in Trained, written by album producer Ben Harper, who also sings back-up though it sounds like he’s coaching her because she isn’t allowing herself to let go and give the song the oomph it needs to really shine. Free Light, written by Not Ready To Make Nice co-writer Dan Wilson, and Patty Griffin‘s Silver Bell both lack heart and sound flat.
Despite the weaknesses, Natalie makes an effort to take her sound beyond what she’s been known for. Even though Taking The Long Way was barely a country album, it still fit within the expectations of what she was known for as a vocalist. With Mother, Natalie leaves nearly all of her former sound behind, save for a few touches here and there, and gives a pretty broad sample of where her head is at. The second half of Mother gets noticeable more rock-sounding and there are points where she’s comfortable but the times she aims for something that she misses bring the album down. Mother would be more interesting if it had more input from Natalie as a co-writer where she could write songs that she could pull off convincingly. We know she can sing covers and strike gold but now that she’s on her own, she has something to prove and she doesn’t quite reach the mark.
1. Without You
3. Free Life
4. Silver Bell
5. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
6. Vein In Vain
8. Come Cryin’ To Me
9. I’d Run Away
10. Take It On Faith