"Even though we played bluegrass," Martie says, "we listened to way more rock, folk-rock, and alternative music, and of course singer/songwriter stuff. And now I hear a lot of Shawn Colvin in Emilys writing and voice. Because she is my sister and she was going through what she was going through, a lot of these songs brought me to tears. To hear her sing and express herself this way is very vulnerable, I think, and very brave."
Fans know how much Martie and Emily are willing to reveal through songwriting with their other band, from "You Were Mine," a ballad about their parents divorce that appeared on the 12-times-platinum Wide Open Spaces, to "So Hard," a song from Taking The Long Way that addressed the issues of infertility they both struggled with before having their respective children. But the frank emotions of the new album may still come as a surprise from a pair who were previously content to have someone else give voice to their deeper sentiments.
Rather than start off with a barnburner of an opener, it was Marties suggestion that listeners be eased into the album with the subdued "Skyline," which describes the inspiration Emily found just gazing at the view of San Antonio from her loft during a dark time. The song opens with just an acoustic guitar and Emily at her most tender, before a few soft drum rolls and Marties lulling fiddle lead the ballad from the bitter into the sweet. Things then kick into higher gearbut, tellingly, stay in Texaswith "The Coast," a good-times anthem that contentedly celebrates neither the east nor west but the south coast.
Theres also a Texas theme to "See You in the Spring," Emilys duet with Jakob Dylan, the wry tale of a star-crossed couple from the northernmost and southernmost parts of the country who find their biggest obstacle is accepting each others climate change. Faster-paced songs range from the self-doubting feminine levity of "Then Again" to the fiery outrage of "Aint No Son," a rocker sung from the myopic point of view of an angry, unaccepting father. Romantic themes veer between the bitter and sweet: "Fairytale" speaks to romantic enchantment, while theres no happily-ever-after in sight in the breakup songs "Aprils Love" and "It Didnt Make a Sound."
The initial impetus behind Emilys writing was to contribute to a future Chicks project, but upon realizing that the groups hiatus had no clear end in sight, she started trying to write for other artists and movie projects. One problem with that: The demos felt too deeply personal to give awayespecially in light of the barrage of emails she would get from Martie after each new demo, warning, "You better not pitch this or Im going to kill you."
At last, the eureka moment: Although Emily had never considered singing lead beforenot even in the late 80s and early 90s, when the Chicks cycled through two other singers before finding Nataliethere was a sudden acceptance of the fact that maybe the last 20 years of pure harmonizing could be taken to the next level. Yet egolessness had been so self-ingrained into Emily and Martie that laying aside that humility still involved a process of discovery.