An ode to the Dixie Chicks: Music that raised me

The group released a new single this month and will follow with a full album in May

There's a huge window, almost the size of the wall it's on, in the living room of the house I grew up in. I'd put my hands and cheeks on it during long Kentucky winters, and my brother and I would lie under it when it rained in the summer. 

It's the backdrop in tons of my baby photos, and my mom always tells me how she'd put me on her hip, bounce me around the house and point out birds and the neighbor's cat while her favorite music played through the room.

The first song I ever knew all of the words to was a Dixie Chicks song, which my mom would always play in that room. The words come naturally now, like when you hear your old favorite song on the radio and it seems wrong to not sing along. 

When I got the Dixie Chicks' 2006 album, "Taking the Long Way," I was ecstatic. It came with a video disk that I watched religiously until I knew every word that was sung on the album and in what order. So when their new song "Gaslighter"  — their first new release since then — came out this month, naturally, it was the only thing I listened to for two entire days. I'm still not quite sure if I should be embarrassed by that or not. 

Listening to it brought me right back to the humid summers I always hated as a kid in Kentucky, the bluegrass festivals I adored and the cold living room window. Their music has everything that makes me feel at home: a little fiddle, guitar picking, layered harmonies. It's the perfect mix between catchy and country with a little bluegrass to follow. 

The Dixie Chicks started with bluegrass roots and then played at small country music festivals in Texas before signing with a record label. They distinguished their sound with upbeat songs like "There's Your Trouble" and "Ready to Run," which separated them from other country music artists of the late '90s who were more focused on slow songs and production.

And their new song is so Dixie Chicks, it almost hurts. The lyrical harmonies from the opening phrase and the short guitar riff in the middle of the song remind me of all of the things I love about country music, especially this group. 

Every Dixie Chicks song is unapologetically personal. Natalie Maines, the group's lead singer, writes with someone or something in mind, and she wants them to know what she's feeling. 

"Gaslighter" is one of the many songs on the group's upcoming album, coming out on May 1, that unpacks Maines' divorce. The heavy topics in their songs aren't something new for the group or the genre they've settled in. Their songs deal with some pretty adult stuff, as every good country song should.

Singing their songs as a kid, I didn't really understand half of the stuff they were talking about. Their song "Not Ready to Make Nice" introduced me to curse words, and that's pretty much all I cared about. 

But now that I'm a little older and understand their lyrics, I also understand what the music is about and what it stands for. Their music taught me that friends can be just as important as family, and that you're worth more than you think. But it's not just personal, it's political too. 

Before cancel culture, there were the Dixie Chicks. The new song is their first in 14 years after being blacklisted by the country music community. In 2003, Maines told a London concert audience that she was "ashamed" that President George W. Bush was from Texas. 

The remarks came after President Bush sent troops to Iraq following 9/11 and as their song "Travelin' Soldier" and album "Home" was topping charts all over the country. People thought her comments were inappropriate and radio stations were told to stop playing their music.

Some protesters who disagreed with Maines' words even went so far as to destroy Dixie Chicks albums and other items with a tractor

The nationwide reaction was understandable, but the Dixie Chicks' expressive and opinionated nature is what makes their music so good. You can listen to it just for the musicality aspect, or you can listen and take action.

I still haven't gone through half of the stuff that their music deals with. I've never been married, let alone divorced. I've never really been in love. I haven't been in any kind of abusive relationship. 

I'm not even the world's biggest country music fan, but there's something about the anger, passion and emotion in every song that tells a story you want to sing too. I hope I don't face the same hardships that the Dixie Chicks have written about, but if I ever do, I know that they'll still be there for me. 

The Dixie Chicks turn their hardships into ballads that inspire the rest of us, even if all we can do is sympathize, to stick up for ourselves, our hopes, our dreams and our journeys. Their new song does that, and hopefully the rest of their upcoming album will too. 

Now it's time to give The State Press newsroom and my Twitter followers a break. Instead, I am asking you, dear reader, to stream "Gaslighter."


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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