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As the chicks part of the Dixie Chicks find themselves at the vanguard of the second wave of "new" -- or "hot," "young," "rebel," whatever -- country, they've got a distinct advantage over most of their peers: They're not prepackaged phonies who grew up as, say, KISS fans and learned about C&W through a reference book. If these chicks can just get comfortable in their "new," adored megastar skins, they should be able to develop some staying power. Maybe one day No Depression fans will have to get together for a giant foot-from-mouth removal party.

The Chicks' 1998 debut, Wide Open Spaces, was competently written, competently arranged and competently performed. It sold six million units -- the most ever by a country group -- but got over mainly on spunk and bluster. The songs were snoozers.

That's why last year's Fly was such a welcome surprise. The Chicks -- Natalie Maines on vocals and guitar, and Emily Erwin and Martie Seidel on, well, every stringed instrument -- let their metaphorical hair down and began to cut loose. They slipped a few mickeys into the mix, such as paeans to no-strings-attached kicks like "Ready to Run" and "Don't Waste Your Heart." They offed a bastard husband in the hilarious "Goodbye Earl" and celebrated the joy of a good humping in "If I Fall You're Going Down with Me." In the rollicking "Sin Wagon," they even got liquored up then had a good hump.

Yet being young, they still thank their parents, God, Norman Rockwell and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their liner notes. You just gotta wonder what these girls think of themselves as sex objects. When you're photographed riding rockets, missiles and tree limbs with your bust falling out of your tank top -- and you owe all that to God and Norman Rockwell -- somethin' is definitely up. On the intro page of the Chicks' Web site, surfers have to unzip a pair of jeans so the girls can emerge from the fly (in a wink to the album title). We're pretty sure Loretta Lynn never squeezed herself into a PVC patent jumpsuit. By contrast, Chicks predecessor Shania Twain is a middling singer, but she's comfortable with herself; you know where she's coming from on stage.

The hope is that the Chicks will someday be chicks, content to tear it up now and then while not diminishing their natural appeal with cutie-pie mugging or trend-gauging. These women could read a phone book in concert and have people begging for more.

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Dave Bottoms