May 31, 2006

Dixie Chicks Bush-whacked at record stores

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Country trio the Dixie Chicks, the
darlings of Nashville until their singer criticized President
Bush three years ago, opened at No. 1 on the U.S. charts on
Wednesday with their first studio album since then, but sales
were sharply lower.

"Taking The Long Way," their third chart-topper, sold
525,000 copies in the week ended May 28, according to tracking
firm Nielsen SoundScan. The figure ranks as one of the biggest
openings of the year, and exceeds industry expectations by more
than 100,000 copies.

But it paled against the 780,000 copies that their last
studio release, "Home," sold during its first week in August
2002. It spent three weeks at No. 1, and has sold 5.8 million
copies to date. In April another country trio, Rascal Flatts,
opened at No. 1 with 722,000 copies of its new album.

The lower sales for the new Dixie Chicks album were not
unexpected given that country radio is largely ignoring the
Texans. The first single, the defiant "Not Ready To Make Nice,"
stalled at No. 36 on Billboard magazine's Hot Country Songs

On the other hand, the trio has garnered plenty of
attention in the mainstream media, with a Time magazine cover
story, and a segment on CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes."

All the attention -- or lack thereof -- stems from a
throwaway comment made by singer Natalie Maines during a London
concert in March 2003. She told the crowd that the band was
embarrassed to come from the same state as Bush. If one critic
had not mentioned it in his review, she might have gotten away
with it, but it quickly escalated into a major incident.

Radio stations stopped playing their songs and organized
public destructions of their discs, sales slumped, death
threats ensued, and country stars like Toby Keith bashed them.
The women have largely laid low in the past few years to focus
on their expanding families, and recording the new album in Los
Angeles with rock producer Rick Rubin.

At this stage, it's possible the Dixie Chicks are
abandoning their country music base, rather than the other way
around. Rubin is best known for his work with funk-rock band
the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had ruled the charts for the
previous two weeks, and with deceased Nashville renegade Johnny

"I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people
who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for
life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with
Reba McEntire and Toby Keith," Dixie Chick Martie Maguire told
Time. We don't want those kinds of fans."

As for their other albums, their 1998 debut, "Wide Open
Spaces," peaked at No. 4 a year after its release, and has sold
8.5 million copies. Their 1999 follow-up, "Fly," opened at No.
1 with 341,000 copies and has sold 8.2 million copies,
according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The Dixie Chicks are signed with Columbia Records, a unit
of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which is a joint venture
between Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG.