imageWhen the Dixie Chicks released “Home” in 2002, the trio was already established as country superstars. After three albums issued on independent labels and a shift in personnel, they signed with Sony and recorded “Wide Open Spaces,” their 1998 disc that produced five hit singles, won two Grammys and sold some 10 million copies worldwide. Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison’s next album, 1999’s “Fly,” was also a smash hit and earned the group a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. “Fly” won the award for Best Country Album.

Thus, “Home” was anticipated, avidly so. Nonetheless, it proved a surprise as the recording found the trio returning to their roots as a bluegrass act. And it included many songs that had already been cut and released commercially by their composers Radney Foster, Bruce Robison and Darrell Scott. But, as revealed in the opening track, Scott’s “Long Time Gone,” the Dixie Chicks set out to make the songs their own – and they succeeded mightily as Maguire’s fiddle and Emily Robison’s banjo ushered in the track so at ease that felt as if the trio has simply stepped up to the microphone and let it rip. Then came the change up: A reading of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” composed by Stevie Nicks. Thus, the Dixie Chicks presented what seemed a contradiction: a return to roots yet an attempt to expand their audience. It worked beautifully.

The album flowed with deceptive ease. Vocal harmonies carried the lovely “A Home” – not quite the title track – composed by the daughter-father team of Maia and Randy Sharp, and on “More Love,” written by Nashville veterans Gary Nicholson and Tom O’Brien, Emily Robison’s Dobro slithered around Maines’s bittersweet topline. “Truth No. 2,” written by Patty Griffin,” was performed with a crisp bite.

Three songs composed by the trio demonstrated their versatility; for example, “I Believe in Love” was a poignant ballad while “White Trash Wedding” and “Tortured, Tangled Hearts” were raucous workouts. Foster’s “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” was delivered as moving country-folk.

To enrich their sound, the Dixie Chicks brought in superior musicians including bassist Byron House, co-producer (and Natalie’s father) Lloyd Maines and Bryan Sutton on guitars, and Chris Thile on mandolin. Marty Stuart was created as co-writer on “I Believe in Love” and “Tortured, Tangled Hearts.”

Released in August 2002, “Home” launched strong, but after Natalie Maines made critical comments nine months later about President George W. Bush, some country radio stations chose to boycott the trio. The perception is that Maines’s remarks and the subsequent reaction damaged the Dixie Chicks beyond repair. But that’s not so. “Home” won five Grammys and, though it didn’t achieve the commercial success of its immediate predecessors, sold almost six million copies worldwide. The group’s in-studio follow-up, 2006’s “Taking the Long Way,” won Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 2007 Grammy Awards ceremony. Produced by Rick Rubin, several songs on the album spoke of the band’s reaction to the controversy.

Since then, the Dixie Chicks haven’t released a new studio album together, but they’ve toured – and will again beginning in April. Natalie Maines issued solo recordings, and Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, who are sisters, formed the Court Yard Hounds. If the trio’s future is uncertain, it’s because the three musicians have chosen to make it so.

With their body of work, and especially with the unexpected, expertly crafted and altogether winning “Home,” the Dixie Chicks remain country superstars, as well they should.