Black Music Matters Festival

The Chicks (formerly Dixie Chicks)

Wide Open Spaces – 1998 (Monument/Sony)

Reviewed by Joel Bernstein

CDs by The Chicks (formerly Dixie Chicks)

Three independent albums and a potent live act gave The Dixie Chicks a big following in Texas. As their major label debut arrives, its first single, "I Can Love You Better," is already a legitimate national hit. That song is one of the weaker cuts, which is good news indeed.

New vocalist Natalie Maines (daughter of steel guitarist/producer Lloyd Maines) has a versatile, radio-friendly voice. The remaining original Chicks, sisters Martie Seidel and Emily Erwin, are adept at vocal harmonies and skilled at instruments such as fiddle, banjo, and dobro. There is some standard Nashville fluff, like the first single. But there are some beautiful ballads, such as "I'll Take Care Of You," the oldie "Loving Arms" and the title track. There's a honky-tonk number "Tonight The Heartache's On Me" that sounds like Highway 101. The epitome of clashing styles is "Give It Up or Let Me Go," which seems geared to the line-dancing crowd until a long dobro/fiddle break unexpectedly appears.

Longtime Dixie Chicks fans may be disappointed the band has become more mainstream. But as commercial albums go, this is a very good one.