“We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Natalie Maines, singer and guitarist of the Texan trio The Chicks (the prefix Dixie, a reference to the slaveholding South, was recently dumped), addressed a London audience in 2003, just before the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. This stance, remember, earned the three musicians the opprobrium of many of their compatriots, as well as a ban on country-music radio.
But the Chicks bounced back in 2006 with the Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way. Despite the persistent radio boycott, Taking the Long Way sold several million copies and won five Grammy awards. Fourteen years later, here they are again, the enfants térribles of American country-pop, with Gaslighter, their seventh studio album. The trio joined forces with two musicians, composers and producers with dazzling track records: Jack Antonoff (St. Vincent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey) and Teddy Geiger (Shawn Mendes, Lizzo, Tiesto, Leon Bridges).
Musically, Martie Maguire (violin, guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals), Emily Robison (banjo, dobro, guitar, accordion, sitar, and backing vocals) and Natalie Maines are strong supporters of country pop. In addition to the country foundations that remain easily discernible, the Chicks and their gifted colleagues have cleverly added various synthetic ornaments. As for the lyrics, most of them put Natalie Maines’s ex, the “gaslighter” of the title, through the wringer in a very well-oiled, cathartic twist. For musicophiles the least bit fond of quality pop, it’ll be ambrosia.
There was undoubtedly a time when our three Texan sisters were looking to the future candidly, like the three young Irish dancers featured on the Gaslighter cover. Today, more than 30 years after the trio’s bluegrass debut, Emily, Martie and Natalie, are bringing their pragmatic art to a climax.