IF THE EARLY-PERIOD Bonnie Raitt cover closing the Dixie Chicks' 1998 breakthrough, Wide Open Spaces, wasn't enough of a clue, new lead singer Natalie Maines cites James Taylor and the Indigo Girls in the liner notes of Fly, their latest announcement that this isn't your father's country. Which doesn't mean the Dixies are any less the genre's legitimate heiresses. The world that produced Loretta Lynn and George Jones and Hank Williams is not the same world that produced Alan Jackson or Deana Carter; it sure isn't the same South. Having debuted in 1990 with an album called Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, the Chicks now keep it real for Sun Belt suburban cowgirls more likely to tool to the mall in an SUV than spin wheels on gravel roads--and there's nothing wrong with that.
Despite the fact that each of the Chicks log a lot more songwriting credits than they did on their previous album, Fly isn't much of a departure for the band. With their tight acoustic instrumentation slightly scuffing the Nashville pop gloss, the Chicks are just traditional enough to be "progressive." It's the sound of country going glam and vice versa. It's lightweight, pleasant stuff, and if Maines isn't much of a voice by country standards, she's just the kind of Mary J. Blige everygirl to front a band that doggedly keeps it on the sunny side while singing about domestic abuse or saying hello to "Mr. Heartache."