Noteworthy CDs

The Dixie Chicks - Taking the Long Way (Sony): After all the Sturm und Drang (or is it strum and twang?) in the wake of lead singer Natalie Maines's 2003 remark that the trio was "ashamed" to share a home state with President Bush, country radio ignored the band. Now they've fired back with a soulful CD produced by Rick Rubin. Picking up where their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" left off, the Chicks sound like a female mix-tape melding The Eagles and Tom Petty. Think acoustic strumming, big hooks, and soaring harmonies. Oh, and the kiss-off? On "Not Ready to Make Nice," Maines builds to a boil, singing, "I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down." She also takes on her hometown of Lubbock, Texas, dismissing it as a "Dust Bowl Bible belt," and closes with a gospel-tinged hymn ("I Hope"). It all works, but fans may wince at the seriousness. Grade: A
- Erik Spanberg

Rascal Flatts - Me and My Gang (Lyric Street): Country music's favorite boy band has not stopped cranking out hits for adoring young audiences since their self-titled debut album in 2000. Now, Rascal Flatts's latest album steers firmly out of the country lane and shifts into pure pop overdrive. Having already sold more than 2 million copies since its April release, "Me and My Gang" is filled with the slick guitar riffs, keyboard fills, and smooth vocal harmonies needed to balance out the pained nasal strain of lead singer Gary LeVox. Loaded with slow tempo refrains of relationships gone awry - most notably, the hit single, "What Hurts the Most" - this 13-song record carries tunes deftly designed to make the young girls swoon. For those who prefer something a bit more upbeat, the trio's title track is reminiscent of a Big & Rich rock tune. Grade:B+
- Vic Roberts

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