Susan Gibson 

The Dixie Chicks raised a little hell when they spoke out against the Iraq war in 2003. But they're also known because of a ditty called "Wide Open Spaces," which blew up to number one on the Country Singles charts in 1998 for four weeks in a row. The woman behind that song is Susan Gibson, who actually wrote it while going to school at the University of Montana.

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Being a popular songwriter is sort of an always-the-bridesmaid situation. But Gibson has been putting out her own albums for almost a decade. Her latest, Tightrope, has clever metaphors involving evergreens and hope diamonds, and is a fairly earnest collection. But one of those songs, "The Wood Wouldn't Burn," is subtler, and, for that, more powerful; she sings about a 1952 Gibson Flattop guitar with blisters on the neck, ashes on the headstock and held together with rusty wire.

You could easily imagine Carrie Underwood or Martina McBride gussying up these songs for the pop country charts. What makes Gibson great is that she tackles them with down-to-earth vocals marked with a folky affect. She uses a pencil eraser on a cigar box for percussion and a warped dobro which makes her seem more authentic. That, and she writes her own songs.

Susan Gibson plays the Missoula Winery Thursday, August 4, at 8 PM with John Floridis. $5.

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