It was the recruitment of Natalie Maines as the Chicks’ new lead singer which transformed their fortunes. The band signed to Monument Records, a subsidiary of Sony. Their debut major label album, released in January 1998, was produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, who were able to meld the group’s organic roots with a commercial sound, showcasing both Natalie’s strikingly distinctive voice and the other women’s accomplished musicianship. With the help of five top 10 singles, it would prove an enormous crossover success, eventually selling 12 million copies.
The first single, the infectious ‘I Can Love You Better’, was written by one of the top Nashville songwriters of the era, Kostas, with Pamela Brown Hayes. A plea to a love interest who is hung up on an ex, it is utterly charming with Natalie’s vocals exuding a mixture of confidence and wistfulness as she offers herself as a better romantic partner than her rival. It was very radio-friendly, and reached #7 on the Billboard country charts.
Follow-up ‘There’s Your Trouble’, written by Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, Is based on a similar theme. The single became their first chart-topper, and also won the girls a Grammy.
The title track made it back-to-back #1s. It was written by Texan singer-songwriter Susan Gibson, who had recorded the song with her alt-country band The Groobees on an album produced by Natalie Maines’ father Lloyd, who then pitched the song to his daughter. An airy melody and bluegrassy instrumentation with sweet harmonies back an optimistic lyric about a young woman leaving home and making her start as an independent adult. It was named the CMA Single of The Year.
The pace slowed for the next single, yet another #1. ‘You Were Mine’ is an exquisitely sad lost love ballad which showed Natalie Maines was capable of subtlety as well as attack. It was the only song on the album to be written by any of the band members, namely Martie and Emily Erwin, and was inspired by the disintegration of their parents’ marriage when they were children:
Sometimes I wake up cryin’ at night
And sometimes I scream out your name
What right does she have to take your heart away
When for so long you were mine
I can give you two good reasons
To show you love’s not blind
He’s two and she’s four and you know they adore you
So how can I tell them you changed your mind?
A rare fifth single, ‘Tonight The Heartache’s on me, is a super honky tonker which had previously been cut by Joy Lynn White in a very similar arrangement. It was not quite as successful as its predecessors, peaking at #6.
Another recent cover was Radney Foster’s ‘Never Say Die’, a nice love song. ‘Let ‘Er Rip’ is a rocker which allows Natalie to let loose vocally. ‘Once You’ve Loved Somebody’ is a wistful ballad about struggling to movie on after a breakup.
One of my favorite tracks is a cover of ‘Loving Arms’, penned by 70s folkie Tom Jans and previously recorded by Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Elvis Presley, and others. Natalie’s compelling vocal, imbued with intense regret, makes this the best version ever of the song in my opinion.
J D Souther’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ is tender and has another fine vocal. Maria McKee’s ‘Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)’ is a rock ballad, again very well sung, while Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Give It Up Or Let Me Go’ is a raucous blues number.
The album’s eclectic mix of material is all very well sung and played, and although its massive success has been somewhat overshadowed by later events (both greater success and more fractious times) it still stands up very well.