"I think this album is less disgruntled than some people thought it might be," Maines says. It's really just about love and life and simple things."BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHICKS? "Things ebb and flow."They're on again this summer: Maines is committed to playing festivals with the Chicks in Canada, an obligation that will pull her full focus from Mother until late summer or early fall.

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"That was what the alarm clock was set to." Covering Buckley is hallowed ground, co-producer Harper admits, but "it took a woman to fit into Jeff's range and someone with the power of Natalie.

There are very few that have that vocal prowess."Overall, there's a tonal change from songs like Not Ready to Make Nice, and Columbia Records president Ashley Newton calls it a "fascinating feel and direction for Natalie to choose for her first solo project."The album may surprise her fans.

And I'm just having my first solo album.' " Maines shakes her head and sips iced tea as conversation skips from parenting tips gleaned from her friend Howard Stern ("He just makes me extra-aware to not burden my kids with my problems or my fears") to Mother, her new rock album out Tuesday. prepared to invade Iraq, 11 words sidelined her career: Maines told the audience that the Chicks were "ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." The fallout was venomous: Country radio turned its back on the group, fans smashed their CDs in front of news cameras and ticket sales dramatically weakened.

Mother is the first major musical effort from Maines since the night she and the Chicks swept five categories at the Grammy Awards for Taking the Long Way, a beautifully defiant hit album blacklisted by radio in the wake of Maines' anti-Bush comments in 2003. LISTEN UP REVIEW: *** 1/2 stars for 'Mother'MORE: Natalie Maines: Now and then After seeing Taking the Long Way through to its Grammys redemption, Maines, a self-described "happy-go-lucky person who didn't have a lot of problems," blessed by a "normal, boring childhood," stepped away from music indefinitely. ' "READY TO MAKE MUSICA year ago, she felt ready to walk into her friend Ben Harper's studio.

Performing solo has been "the weirdest part" of venturing out on her own, says Maines, who tested the new album at SXSW music festival and in L. So there's some growth to be done there."Radio is having the same reaction. But, "she still has an audience that wants to hear whatever she does.

It will largely be a matter of getting the word out to them."Ask Maines what she'd do in the past if she knew then what she knows now, and the pause is long.

Read more, and listen to the track, after the jump.

Natalie Maines, singer for the Dixie Chicks, has participated in “Legendary Bingo”, a US bingo game hosted by drag queens and held weekly in Los Angeles, California.

"She's a galvanizing, polarizing figure."The mountain before her seems to suit.