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Pop Music | Record Rack

Rooted in Love and Country

August 25, 2002|Robert Hilburn; Richard Cromelin; Natalie Nichols; Soren Baker; Steve Hochman; Marc Weingarten; Ernesto Lechner

*** 1/2 DIXIE CHICKS, "Home", Open Wide/Columbia

The Chicks aim for music that offers a message as well as entertains, and the female country trio blends those objectives engagingly in the opening 24 seconds of its third album (due in stores Tuesday).

Before the first line of lyrics in "Long Time Gone," the sparkling banjo-fiddle exchange catches your ear and serves as a statement: The Chicks are sticking to their traditional country roots rather than playing the pop crossover game that has taken the heart out of so much country music.

The song itself, written by Darrell Scott, also carries a message.

It's the story of a young musician with dreams of becoming part of country music's soulful legacy. But he discovers that the legacy is largely history in Nashville, and he takes a slap at what is left on the radio:

Now they sound tired, but they don't sound Haggard.

They've got money, but they don't have Cash.

They have Junior, but they don't have Hank.

It's a knockout track and not just a token message. The album also contains some rousing, bluegrass-spiked numbers, including the goofball novelty "White Trash Wedding." Banjo, fiddle, dobro and slide guitar elements are also spread throughout the other selections.

But "Home" isn't backward-looking. There is a modern sensibility that runs through the album, chiefly in the way various songs (a third of them written by the trio) reflect on the complexity of relationships. In their earlier albums, the Chicks spoke about breaking loose, finding freedom and self-affirmation.

With each member of the group now married, they selected songs that frequently focus on matters of home and heart, examining love in all its forms, and relationships between people and even countries.

The range is a little too scattered for the album to have the searing impact of Willie Nelson's "Phases and Stages" or Vince Gill's "The Key," two of country's best looks at romance. But "Long Time Gone" confirms the Chicks' place in the Haggard, Cash and Williams tradition.

--Robert Hilburn

*** QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, "Songs for the Deaf", Interscope

Meteorologically, it's tempting to attribute this musical storm front to the reaction between the Queens' arid Southern California desert rock and the soggy Northwest sensibility of new key collaborators Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees).

For all their reputation as dangerous, deranged renegades, Queens mainstays Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri have come up with a second album of psychedelic-tinged hard rock (due Tuesday) that's painstakingly modulated and pretty restrained. Its superstructure of mighty chording is honed, sleek and verging on progressive, an impression reinforced by a visit from Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider from L.A. complex-crunch group Eleven (recent collaborators with another Seattle stalwart, Chris Cornell).

But it's also bracingly primal, from its moments of punk rant to its predominantly taut, ominous aura. The Northwest input results in moments that don't sound too far from old Soundgarden--sad, soulful and dreamy--and drummer Grohl is a particularly notable energy source.

--Richard Cromelin

*** 1/2 AIMEE MANN, "Lost in Space", SuperEgo

Sonically, at least, it's more like lost in the spaciousness, as the lush music on the singer-songwriter's fourth album (in stores Tuesday) prettily sprawls to infinity while remaining grounded in her usual themes of emotional codependency, romantic disillusionment and unshakeable self-doubt.

The L.A. resident doesn't address the glaring spotlight that comes with being a fleeting sensation, although she might have, given the media attention she got in 2000 after receiving a best song Oscar nomination for "Save Me," and from joining other talented-but-trend-free musicians deemed unprofitable by major labels in selling her "Bachelor No. 2" album largely through the Internet. Instead, she looks at the addictive power of obsession in the dreamy "High on Sunday 51" and exposes a nasty character in the muscular "Guys Like Me."

Still, even the spare moments are larger than life, cinematically lavished with acoustic guitar, eerie slide work, gurgling keyboards and soaring strings.

Although Mann has long mined this emotional territory, such numbers as "Humpty Dumpty" and the quietly despairing "This Is How It Goes" give the collection a poignant sense of isolation.

The smooth production evokes '70s pop radio but isn't really nostalgic.

Each part is crisply defined, even as the layers of instrumentation and Mann's icily passionate vocals meld seamlessly. "Lost in Space" is certainly Beatles-esque, but it's also very California: laid-back and almost too lovely to be real.

Yet upon closer examination, it's rather unsettled, and unsettling.

--Natalie Nichols

** 1/2 EVE, "Eve-Olution", Ruff Ryders/Interscope

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