Wide Open Spaces (Dixie Chicks)

Thanks to my wife Jamie being a country singer from Austin, pfizer TX I was not only introduced to this song but also to its author, Susan Gibson. What makes a great song great is something far beyond what engineers and producers do in the studio, but the magic captured from the air here is certainly worth inspection from my usual critical listening ear. Download it here to listen along.

It begins with the full bodied rhythm guitar favoring the right ear and a hi-hat happily ticking on all 4 beats. The fiddle stands just to the left of center introducing the turnaround with the full band bringing us back to the top of the progression. A pedal steel all the way to the left establishes the chord on gently decaying but warm whole notes and a very warm electric rhythm guitar balances out the right channel. Our bass player is super solid with the kick down the middle. What a gorgeous bass sound!

A note on the drum kit- the hat is off to the right and the floor tom is far left. This isn’t unusual panning for a drum kit (technically it’s “audience perspective” as opposed to the drummer’s perspective) BUT what is really cool is that all the most rhythmic instruments are all hanging on the right ear and the instruments that are sustained filling out the chords and melodies etc. are hanging to the left. This mixing mentality maintains into the choruses when the banjo comes plucking along on the right.

I realize one thing that is really awesome with this technique is that you get the full benefit of the attack and decay and space with those rhythmic parts. If you had the sustained instruments playing through that I think you wouldn’t get the subtleties of the decay of these instruments and a large part of their flavor would be lost.

Similarly with the sustained and melodic instruments hanging toward the left on their own you get to appreciate the smooth warm decay and interchange of their unique timbres as they fill out different parts of the chord.

OBVIOUSLY this leaves the middle “wide open” for the lead vocal, kick, bass and snare. As I mentioned earlier this is a VERY well written song with a great melody and very relevant lyrics (to anyone who’s ever had the experience of growing up!) Being that this melody is in the center channel it is what is truly featured for the listener, with the rest of the music supporting it. (And might I add this band plays incredibly well!)

The background vocals are almost angelic. Spread across the stereo spectrum you can still pick out individual voices if you try. They accent just a few lines and are gone. Hence, a real accent!

The instrumental section just past the middle of the song is great because it isn’t any one instrument’s solo- just phrases after the soli section with the fiddle and banjo. This is cool because it is the “Dixie Chicks” – you get the point that they can play but they don’t bang you over the head with it. It’s very well mixed and almost impossible to tell how much “support” they received from other string players here. The balance puts them on top and then they drop out letting the guitars and BG vocals shoot little phrases at each other. Just great players, playing and enough space for the listener to just listen to something melodically and rhythmically understand. Perfect Pop!

When all this comes out it’s down to just a the basic rhythm acoustic, tinkle of piano and light flourishes until the side stick comes back to cue up the full band and big finish. Great outchorus reiterates all the salient points of the song painted across this perfect country mix.

I’m glad this was recorded when it was because I think with modern compressors and mixing software they would have done the stereo mix by combining the rhythm of the right with the sustained chords of the left and then tried to enhance the stereo image by using more doubled instruments or other stereo enhancement techniques. The mix as it stands makes for a very organic full bodied sound without being overbearing, feeling thin, and definitely never muddy.

Great job one and all!

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