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Taking the Long Way - The Dixie Chicks (2006)

The summer following my first year of college I worked at an upper-class restaurant in a lakeside village called Bayfield, Ontario. The kitchen staff, of which I was a part, usually retreated to a pub called Harry's on its late-afternoon break.

As we talked one day, a song by the Dixie Chicks drifted into the dining room, setting one of my colleagues into a small rant about how much he hated the band. Most everyone at our table concurred, but I remember liking the song. Actually buying a DCX album is something I never thought I would do, but I allowed myself to enjoy the offering that shimmered through Harry's stereo, trying not to let on that I was doing so.

Four years later, I was sitting in a newspaper office somewhere in the same county, banging out an article, when the DCX single "Not Ready to Make Nice" wafted into the room. It was a profane song and I had only a vague grasp of its subject matter, but darn if it wasn't endearing. It took me awhile, but I finally gathered the courage to purchase the thing, wrote about it in my blog, blasted it in various stereos with conflicting emotions, and here we are today.

What you're about to read is a very wishy-washy appraisal of Taking the Long Way, because I still haven't decided whether I like it or not. The songs are too "country" to satisfy me most of the time, but that's hardly reason enough to denounce what is, after all, a "country" album.

Some of the songs are exceptional (the album closer "I Hope" being the best), but others border on awful. The ones that stand out ("Lubbock or Leave It," "Not Ready to Make Nice") often have gaping moral gaffes, and a few of the morally solid offerings are simply commonplace ("Easy Silence," "Favourite Year").

From a moral standpoint, it's easy to dismiss Taking the Long Way. Aside from the profanities in the first single and elsewhere, "Lubbock or Leave It" is a blatant slam on the Church and an ode to rebellion and lost salvation. "Voice Inside My Head" finds a married singer pining for a former lover ("I can hear the voice inside my head/Saying you should be with me instead…I wonder/What would it be like with you around").

From a musical standpoint, however, it's not so easy. Most of the songs here are functional (ie. they just work, for whatever reason), but they're often so simple that from an instrumental standpoint they're quite unsatisfying. The musicians that play on the album are technically impeccable (as studio musicians often are) but also plastic (as studio musicians tend to be). The vocals are, of course, excellent, but they conform to the conventions of a number of genres and invent very little, if anything.

It's important to note that there is both moral goodness and musical aptitude here, despite the missteps stated earlier. "Baby Hold On" earnestly asks a significant other to stay in their relationship and work things out. "I Hope," despite over-simplifying the question of war's morality, imagines a painless world of "more joy and laughter" and "more happy ever afters." The latter is also the album's best track, musically speaking, and "Bitter End" is no slouch either.

Ultimately, Taking the Long Way is a loveable, hateable grouping of tunes, and I waver between loving and hating it almost every time I listen to it. Suffice it to say those who are more "country" than I will probably like it quite a bit more. Those who are less "country" will probably despise it. Parents will likely want to steer their kids away from it, however – or research the lyrics online and be selective in which songs they allow to be downloaded.