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Dixie Chicks

Fly – 1999 (Monument/Sony)

Reviewed by Holly Gleason

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CDs by Dixie Chicks

Seven million Chicks fans can't be wrong! But is it their snappy fashion sense? Their in your face attitude? Killer musicians and a singer whose voice is made of kryptonite? "I Can Love You Better" was the freshest sound on country radio last year; people may've responded to the brazen fun, but it was always about the music.

This blows any misconceptions away. Drawing on roots country's best songwriters - Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and others - to supplement their own tersely-written survey course on the tradition, this is high octane country.

Screeching like a cheetah on the slamming "Hole In My Head," Natalie Maines infuses feral energy into a format once wild-eyed and white-knuckled. Knowing where the corners are allows for freewheeling honky tonk ("Hello, Mr. Heartache"), hushed benedictions ("Let Him Fly"), dobro-steeped caution ("Don't Waste Your Heart On A Wild Thing"), celtic reels ("Ready To Run"), frantic lust for life ("Sin Wagon") and the achingly haunted ("Cold Day In July") that push the limits.

But it all gels on "Good-Bye Earl," a cheerfully sung ring-around-the-rosie death knell for a wife abuser who gets his. Maines, Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel toss down a gauntlet of fiery notes as they celebrate the revelry of just revenge.

That they bust through the limits with a song as flammable as "Earl" is endemic of their headlong rush to stardom: taking no prisoners, they only answer to the music and its potential. From here, the view's limitless.