Idol Chatter

Ricky Skaggs knows how the Dixie Chicks feel. So does Randy Travis. Both country singers spoke and sang about what they believed in—faith in Jesus—and both saw record sales and radio airtime plummet, despite the fact that half of country fans go to church on Sunday.

If Jesus can do that for country mainstays like Travis and Skaggs, it’s no wonder that disavowing fellow Texan George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq War could chase the Chicks out of Nashville altogether. Their new album, “Taking the Long Way,” made with Rick Rubin, the rock and rap producer who put the finishing touches on Johnny Cash’s legend, is not only unrepentant, it is not country music.

It’s true that the trio—Natalie Maines, and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison—never fit the country profile. Songs like “Goodbye Earl” tagged them as feminists in a world where female empowerment more often means wearing your jeans so tight you put the boys in a tizzy. As Maines put it in an interview this week, “Where would we fit on the playlist between ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ and ‘Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off’?”

But the Chicks’ defection to adult contemporary is a shame nonetheless. Though deep-fried patriots will puff out their chests at their rout, country music will be poorer without Maines’s untamed voice and the two sisters’ real-thing fiddle and banjo. And though blue-staters will welcome them as fellow travelers, the once rebellious Chicks will be one more soft rock group singing to the choir.

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