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National Roots

Dixie Chicks

Bubblegum bluegrass

Dixie Chicks Put it this way: would Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, or even Lucinda Williams ever put out an album that credits six hair stylists and four makeup artists? You might think of the Dixie Chicks as the Hanson of country music: there's three of them, they're young and wicked cute, and they're better than they need to be. The Chicks will never have the respect of the traditional- and alternative-country crowd, and there's a reason for that: you won't find anything truly deep or risky on Wide Open Spaces and Fly (both Monument/Sony Nashville), the two albums that made them the best-selling group in country-music history. But well-executed bubblegum can be a beautiful thing, and if the Chicks megahits "Ready To Run" and "I Can Love You Better" are ultimately as fluffy as "MMMBop," they aren't any less irresistible.

The Chicks are something of a DIY story: founding sisters Martie Seidel and Emily Erwin released three albums on indie labels, hiring and firing a handful of members before recruiting the charismatic frontwoman, Natalie Maines. Instead of marking a sellout, the hit albums with Maines just refined the commercial strategy they'd been aiming for all along. With no shortage of fiddle and mandolin, their albums feel like pop while sounding like bluegrass. And they offer a happy ending even when dealing with spousal abuse -- see their latest single, "Goodbye Earl" (now generating plenty of "controversy" hype, even though it's been on a multi-platinum album for a year with nobody batting an eye). At the very worst, the group could be drawing millions of fans into harder-core country music -- but that's more than can be said for Shania or the increasingly wacky Garth.

-- Brett Milano

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