It's hard to fathom the amount of improvement that "Fly" has over its predecessor, but the Dixie Chicks just grabbed the baton and ran with it. There are moments here that are downright funky in their joy, and transcendent in their emotional reach. With so few artists in Nash Vegas willing to play anything but what the dictators in ten gallon hats demand of them, the risk taking here was nothing short of phenomenal. Even a run of the mill ballad like "Cowboy Take Me Away" sounds bold in context.
Natalie Maines' voice gained in confidence here, and along with it, so did her partners in Chick-dom (Martie Seidel and Emily Robison). Listen to the obvious relish she injects into the good-riddence-too-bad-rubbish humor of "Good-bye Earl" and the line "That Earl had to DIE!" Or the full steam engine locomotive bluegrass that drives "Sin Wagon." Quite frankly, "Sin Wagon" is one of the most fun and rollicking songs I've heard on a country CD since Dolly Parton began challenging the boundaries of country, bluegrass, and pop.
Just to make sure you don't think "Fly" is little more than a country lark, be prepared for the title song. Patty Griffin's "Let Him Fly" gets inside your heart without being a formula country weepy. It's testament to the Chicks' song selection that - like on "Wide Open Spaces" - their taste in song writers is impeccable. (No pun intended.) In turn, it makes their run of fresh sounding originals sound all the better. "Fly" took plenty of risks and still produced hits. That the Dixie Chicks had to enter into a legal battle to get more freedom makes me love them more, especially considering they followed it up with their best work yet, "Home." You should have both.