The Dixie Chicks recently shared their first new song in 14 years, the fierce and calculated “Gaslighter,” and announced an album of the same name out May 1. This is exciting news for any and all fans of the trio featuring lead singer Natalie Maines and sisters Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison, but it’s also fantastic news for pop culture at large. It’s been more than a decade since we’ve been privy to the outspoken rhetoric of country music’s loudest and proudest band, not to mention their moving ballads, breakup songs, revenge anthems and straight-up bluegrass bangers. More than 15 years after they expressed their dislike for former president George W. Bush and, as a result, were all but abolished by the conservative country establishment, it’s pretty clear that most music fans are pretty pleased with their comeback. To commemorate the return of one of the most simultaneously controversial and beloved country groups of all time, we rounded up our favorite songs by the Dixie Chicks (Spoiler: we love the new song so much, we had to include it here). Without further ado, call up the Mary Anne to your Wanda, spin your Dixie Chicks album of choice in solidarity and behold a dozen of their best songs below.
There may be no better Dixie Chicks catchphrase than “Not ready to make nice,” the title of the third song from their 2006 album Taking The Long Way, appropriately released a handful of years after they made their infamous comments about George W. Bush at a concert overseas. Some artists may have cowered in that situation, but the Dixie Chicks—as you’ve probably realized by now—are strong in their convictions. “I made my bed, and I slept like a baby,” Maines sings at one point. As the trio sings throughout the song, they have no regrets—romantic, political or otherwise. And I have a feeling if you asked them today, they might say something along those same lines.
If they didn’t already have enough of these already, “Gaslighter,” the lead single and title track from their new album out May 1, is another anthem for women scorned. Seventeen years after they were shunned from the country music institution (and popular music at large, at least for a while), this single is almost too good to be true. It’s a revenge track, a breakup song and a souped-up, banjo-featuring country banger all in one. “You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?” they sing. Not only are they chastising a low-down scoundrel for getting himself into this mess, but they’re also calling him (and everyone in the music industry who ostracized them all those years ago) out with guns blazing: “You made your bed and then your bed caught fire.” It’s the same spirit of “Goodbye Earl,” but with a post-#MeToo edge. The song arrives with a punchy music video à la the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt opening credits, full of gussied-up black-and-white footage, edited internet memes and plenty of pink power.
The opening track on the Dixie Chicks’ 1998 debut album Wide Open Spaces, “I Can Love You Better” introduced us to the trio’s springiness and sass right away. With bouncy acoustic guitar and fierce fiddles, it sounds a lot like the conventional, female-driven radio country of the day (as popularized by Shania Twain, Martina McBride and the Chicks themselves), but there was no one else doing the forget-her-and-love-me song with harmonies like these.
Have the Dixie Chicks ever made you cry? If you’ve heard two of their most popular songs, “Wide Open Spaces” and their take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” your answer is probably yes. But neither is as mournful as the rock-leaning “Cold Day in July,” one of the saddest damn post-relationship songs you’ll ever hear. Maines opens the song with the line, “The moon is full but my arms are empty.” Reach for the tissues. We inch closer to the chorus as she sings, “You always said the day that you would leave me would be a cold day in July,” and by the time all three singers join in as he drives away, you’ll be sighing into an ugly cry.
Another Taking The Long Way cut, “Easy Silence” is as touching a love song you’ll find anywhere in country music. It’s about the refuge we find in relationships (romantic and/or platonic, so it seems) as the world around us becomes increasingly chaotic. Featuring a gnarly guitar solo and biting lines like “Children lose their youth too soon / Watching war made us immune,” “Easy Silence’ is a quiet haven among a catalog of barn-raising bops and revenge anthems.
Maybe more than anything else, the Dixie Chicks are detailed and vivid storytellers with the ability to deliver an anecdote from multiple perspectives. The “Travelin’ Soldier” folktale is a particularly heartbreaking one as Natalie, Martie and Emily knit together the happenstance events of a Vietnam soldier and his one-time love. If George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was one generation’s sob-worthy country song about death and those left behind, this is ours.
It may be surprising to see another band’s song so high up on a list of the best Dixie Chicks tracks, but if you’re a longtime fan of this firecracker trio, you probably agree “Landslide” deserves to be. Believe it or not, some children of the 2000s probably grew up thinking “Landslide” was written by the Dixie Chicks. And perhaps more shocking to Fleetwood Mac fans, some people would even argue this version is better than the Fleetwood Mac original (I won’t be taking sides!). Regardless of your stance in this debate, the Dixie Chicks certainly have their way with “Landslide,” adding another emotional layer to an already emotional breakup song for the ages. Sometimes music just sounds sadder with banjo and mandolin mixed in.
Who wouldn’t want to get down to this Celtic/country mashup? Nothing against One Direction’s own song “Ready to Run,” but the Dixie Chicks’ ode to facing love and life with open arms is a positivity anthem for the books (and how many country songs can pull off a piccolo arrangement?!). Whether you’re ready to “run” away with (or from) your betrothed or just have some more “fun” before settling down, this song is a fortified soundtrack choice for any of life’s high points.
“Sin Wagon” is where rock ‘n’ roll meets bluegrass at the hootenanny hosted by punks. It’s one of the wildest and wackiest songs the Dixie Chicks have ever made, and if you’ve never tried running on the treadmill to it, I’ll sign off on that recommendation. “Sin Wagon” is the story of rising above abuse and not just moving on, but reckoning with the evils of relationships past. You might call it a rebound hookup; the Dixie Chicks say “mattress dancin’.”
Twenty years after the country classic Fly debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, a few truths still hang in the dusty air: Boys will always take you on a “wild goose chase,” a bird can’t sing when you’ve “tied its wings” and Earl had to die. Fly is a perfect country album because it has everything you could ever ask for in one: heartache, hilarity and hell’s bells, all conveyed through impeccably told and sung stories. And the best of those may just be “Goodbye Earl,” a playfully murderous (if such an oxymoron can exist) line-dancing ballad. Which is more true: That “Goodbye Earl” is about the eternal ties of female friendships (I’d bet my banjo Mary Anne and Wanda are still “the best of friends” to this day) or how men are perpetually garbage? Maybe it’s a little of both. Either way, definitely don’t take this song too literally and plot to murder your ex-boyfriend, but do fight on behalf of your friends, and stick up for yourself when it matters. The Dixie Chicks have always stood by that advice.
“Ready To Run” and “Goodbye Earl” are as smart and sassy as anything in the Dixie Chicks’ catalog, but there’s no doubt as to which Fly song has the most staying power: “Cowboy Take Me Away,” a master thesis in three-part harmony, is a certified classic. At the end of the day, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison are big-hearted dreamers with the voices of angels, and the Wild West romance of “Cowboy Take Me Away” has as much beauty and feeling as your favorite romance movie.
While the video for this song is interpolated with footage of the Dixie Chicks playing to fields of thousands of screaming fans and traveling America in a shiny 18-wheeler tour bus, “Wide Open Spaces” is a song of hope and opportunity for anyone, whether you’re an aspiring country star or a single mom who dreams of going back to school. This song is simultaneously about our internal hunger for something more than our lowly state, an American dream that’s actually in reach, growing up, moving away, learning from experience and Manifest Destiny. It’s an incredibly smart and moving country ballad that actually could apply to just about everyone in one way or another (“Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about?” Maines sings as she opens the track). “Wide Open Spaces” is representative of the timelessness of Dixie Chicks’ music and their steadfast ability to inspire people. It’s also a sign-in-the-sky to drop everything, gas up the tank and chase after that dream you’ve been shoving down for too long. Just don’t forget to check the oil.