Mother

It's been a decade since Natalie Maines said a few choice words about George W. Bush and set off the biggest flame war in country-music history. Overnight, the Dixie Chicks became pariahs, and the role suited them: They broke with Nashville, hooked up with Rick Rubin and recorded their tautest, most tough-minded album, 2006's Taking the Long Way. Now, Maines returns with a solo LP – and she wants no part of country whatsoever. Mother, co-produced by Maines and Ben Harper, is a rock album, with nary a fiddle or pedal steel in earshot. It's serious and at times grim, full of midtempo songs in brooding minor keys. The straight-forwardness is in Maines' choice of repertoire: songs by Harper, Eddie Vedder, Jeff Buckley and the Jayhawks, most of them tastefully rootsy. Too often, the music feels a bit limp, and the buttery harmony backups of her fellow Dixie Chicks are sorely missed. But there are some surprises: The title track is the famous Pink Floyd ballad, which in Maines' stately reading comes off as a lament, not as a rant. The album hits its stride with the more spunky material, like Patty Griffin's "Silver Bell." It's a breakup song – but it sounds a whole heck of a lot like a kiss-off from Maines to her old Bush-era foes: "How you been?/I'm doing well/I hear you're digging a hole to hell."