We gave it an A-
”The rooster crows, but the hen delivers.” That was the Dixie Chicks’ (Natalie Maines and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Seidel) first slogan back in the early ’90s — and it turned out to be a prescient one.
Fly — the Chicks’ follow-up to their smash major-label debut, ”Wide Open Spaces” — isn’t as boldly playful or immediately seductive as its predecessor, even when it strains to be irreverent (”Goodbye Earl”). But the album takes a giant leap in establishing the three — who add five of their own songs to those by Matraca Berg, Jim Lauderdale, and Patty Griffin — as serious, fully developed writers and musicians.
As on ”Wide Open Spaces,” the new tunes are a beguiling mix of deep-dish country-bluegrass, infused with progressive country, folk, and rock. Simply produced, using only the slightest hint of synthesizer and reverb, the album has a clean sound that relies squarely on the Chicks’ own musicianship — Maines’ lead vocals, Seidel’s fiddle, mandolin, viola, and harmony vocals, and Robison’s banjo, Dobro, lap steel, acoustic guitar, and harmony vocals — with only a handful of additional instruments played by others.
”Fly”’s traditional elements — especially Robison’s acoustic banjo and Dobro, framed within energetic, contemporary arrangements — should appeal to Ma and Pa down on the farm. And its sassy attitude targets preteens and Gen-Xers who’ve never found country cool (in concert, the trio even pass out buttons that proclaim ”Chicks kick a–”).
The theme of female empowerment isn’t new in country — Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn took up that cause long ago — but never has it been conveyed by such a body of well-turned music or in-your-face conviction. Chances are that the group’s latest slogan — ”Chicks rule” — will prove prophetic with ”Fly.” Meanwhile, these Chicks are sitting pretty in the Nashville roost.