- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

Being a new mother doesn't mean Dixie Chick Natalie Maines is going to stop belting out such randy rave-ups as the group's hit, "Sin Wagon."

But the singer doesn't deny that giving birth to her son, Slade, has had an impact on both her life and her art.
Motherhood, she says, has made her less headstrong and more attuned to other people's feelings.
It also has left the 27-year-old songstress a bit mellow, a notion that hasn't gone unnoticed during recording sessions.
Fellow Dixie Chick Martie Maguire is "amazed," Miss Maines relates, when she tells her, "I don't care, do whatever you wanna do."
Fans will decide for themselves if all the collective, gooey happiness surrounding the band members all three now are married, and Emily Robison is seven months pregnant will result in Pablum or pure country gold.
Sales figures will soon tell the tale. The band's latest effort, "Home," hits record stores Tuesday.
"'Home' "depicts where we are in all our lives right now," Miss Maines says during a recent phone interview to promote the album. "This isn't like our new direction. It felt right at the time."
The results came after an extended break following the band's 2000 "Fly" tour.
"We've gotten older and more mature," she notes. "Our fans have aged, as well."
Five years have passed since the band's debut, "Wide Open Spaces," but that can be a giant chasm in the disposable world of music. Still, with hits like "Goodbye Earl," "Ready to Run" and "Cowboy Take Me Away," most consider the band to be here for the long haul.
A good showing by "Home" could cement that opinion.
It was recorded in Texas, away from Nashville, where they cut their previous two albums. Those discs, 1998's "Wide Open Spaces" and the following year's "Fly," sold 20 million copies while establishing the group's credentials among both fans and critics.
The Dixie Chicks' chart-topping ways hit a roadblock last year when they tried to wriggle free from their seven-album contract with Sony.
The trio initially announced it would no longer record for the label, citing accounting practices that they claimed robbed them of $4 million in royalties. Sony sued for breach of contract, and suddenly the band became immersed in the burgeoning musicians' rights movement alongside the likes of Don Henley, Beck and Luther Vandross.
Band and label eventually kissed and made up. "Home" marks the band's first release on its own Open Wide Records, a boutique label under the Sony umbrella created in the dust-up's wake.
Miss Maines remains embittered by the process. She also is realistic about the complexities of the business.
"All new artist contracts [stink]. You have no leverage," she says. "I don't think you can avoid situations like that. There's not one artist who wishes they hadn't done something different.
"The Dixie Chicks had been around for a lot of years without a label. There was nowhere else to go," she continues. "The only chance we had [was to contract with Sony]. We knew what we were signing."
While Miss Maines' days as a Chick have been an unadulterated success, the group actually began in the late '80s with a different lead singer. Two, in fact. Laura Lynch and Robin Macy provided the voice for the band as it flitted about Texas in search of gigs and an identity.
The foursome, named after a Little Feat song "Dixie Chicken," cut three independent albums before sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, then performing under their maiden name, Erwin, set out in search of a new lead singer.
When 21-year-old Miss Maines joined the group, its days of anonymity ended.
While some Nashville acts such as Shania Twain shed their roots for crossover appeal, the Chicks became country superstars by staying the course.
Miss Maines, daughter of respected Texas musician Lloyd Maines, makes no apologies for the approach, nor does she say it has anything to do with record sales.
"We talk about this all time, why we do what we do," she says. "It's never intentional. The label marketed us that way [as] pure country. It was true at the time, but you don't want to get pigeonholed."
She won't deny that such songs as "Landslide," a cover of Fleetwood Mac's classic song on the new album, may broaden the band's audience.
"Landslide" does offer a not-so-subtle nod to motherhood and the changes that Miss Maines has gone through of late.
"Can I handle the seasons of my life," she sings, a previously unheard maturity creeping into her delivery. The track grew, in part, from her friendship with its author, Stevie Nicks.
Despite their bond, Miss Maines didn't know how Miss Nicks would take their request to cover what many consider to be the singer's "trademark" song.
"It was weird to talk to her about it," says Miss Maines, who at 27 is the same age Miss Nicks was when she wrote the song.
"We didn't know if she cared if we re-covered it. We weren't impressed with how [other musicians] covered it," she giggles, possibly referring to cover versions by Tori Amos and Smashing Pumpkins.
The selection, she says, simply made sense.
Less obvious, she says, was her recent stab at acting.
She played a small role in the independent film "Grand Champion" and even shared a few moments with Oscar-winner Julia Roberts.
"She was my acting coach and wardrobe girl," Miss Maines says, giddy with the memory.
Still, the process proved excruciating. While she doesn't get nervous at all while singing on stage, acting on a bustling set proved far more unsettling.
Miss Roberts made all the difference. "She was like a stage mom helping on the side," Miss Maines says.
For now, she has to settle for being a country music star, but one who wouldn't mind sampling other genres.
"At some point I'd like to make a rock record," she says of her band. "We never close any doors down the road."
Even if the Dixie Chicks crank up the amplifiers, she doesn't picture the band's sound straying too far from its current formula. "When you've got the three-part harmony," she says. "You can only stray so far."

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