Natalie Maines might have shed her mainstream Country appeal, but her new album Mother is just as raw and fearless as anything she ever did with the Dixie Chicks. In fact, her breathtaking and bold choices on the short 10-track collection is her best work to-date. As primarily a covers album, she takes noticeable liberties with melody, arrangement and vocal delivery, showering her believable conviction on top of already elevated lyrics.
First off, you have to head into this project fully knowing that you are about to experience something completely different than what the original recordings did.
For example, Maines’ stunning take on such tracks as “Without You” (ironically sharing the same title as a Chicks hit song), written and performed by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, and “Free Life,” a Dan Wilson cut, emblazons the project with a sense of creative entitlement. As the album’s opener — and the singer’s current single — “Without You” sets the tone for a record that blasts its way from simplicity and undercooked tones to boisterous choruses and loud production. Along the way, she explores the softer qualities of her voice, but doesn’t back down from her gritty nuances and unabashed talent at crafting memorable stories.
The album’s title track, a retooling of Pink Floyd’s original, supplies a varied approach than the lyrics might suggest, which is owed to Maines more than competent interpretative skills. As a definite highlight, she offers up a more emotional vision, bringing more focus to the post-war era and the effects on an overprotective maternal figure. It becomes more of a lullaby than an angst-laden rebellion. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the connection between the political nature of the song and Maines' outspoken nature. Cue to George W. Bush and 2003. "Mother should I run for President? Mother should I trust the government? Mother will they put me in the firing mine?" she sings.
That’s the one thing I enjoy most about this album as a whole. Maines has re-envisioned these songs to fit her own experiences and pours her heart into telling a different side of the story. Of course, a rock album wouldn’t be complete without uptempo beats and power vocals, as evidenced on “Silver Bell” (Patty Griffin) and “Trained” (Be Harper). You can quickly imagine Maines approach to these tracks, as her previous work, especially on Taking the Long Way, incorporated definitive rock influences. These, however, take that notion to a completely different level. Maines’ fierceness fuels the lyrics and keeps up with the tick-tock of the percussion and electric guitar, only adding to the overall gut-punching atmosphere of the set.
The closing track, “Take It on Faith,” is the only original on the album, an emotionally charged gut-wrenching resolution. It’s a piano-driven ballad that contrasts rather nicely after a series of louder, arena-rock anthems. The tear in her voice delivers the song with subtle pain, just enough to rip your heart from your chest and smash it with her hands. The only option you have is to watch it crumble before your eyes and fall to the earth underneath your feet.
Other highlights: “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” “Vein in Vain”
Overall Grade: A
In support of the project, Maines is making a series of appearances this week, including on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Ellen DeGenere Show. Stay up-to-date on what she's up to this year on her official website. Purchase the new album on iTunes.