In May 2003, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY senior writer Chris Willman wrote a cover story on the Dixie Chicks after singer Natalie Maines told London concertgoers she was ''ashamed'' to share a home state with President Bush. The ensuing controversy prompted Willman to pen Rednecks & Bluenecks (New Press, $25.95), a comprehensive look at the intersection of country music and politics. Twang doesn't necessarily mean Republican, he notes. ''People think of Nashville as a conservative town, but it's really not,'' says Willman, 44, a fairly recent convert to country music. ''There's a huge contingent of execs and songwriters who are liberal.''
Between 9/11 and Bush's reelection last year, Nashville's ideological divide was reflected in dueling songs by performers ranging from the liberal Steve Earle (''Rich Man's War'') to right-leaning Brooks & Dunn (''Only in America''). ''That was a moment in time when the music was the most politicized it will ever be,'' says Willman. ''Country was creating a better snapshot of what people were feeling than any other kind of popular music.''