- 21 Jul 20
Blood On The Tracks
First things first, until very recently The Chicks were better known as Dixie Chicks. Apparently, they wanted to lose the ‘Dixie’ part of their name, with all the connotations that came with it for years, and seeing the Confederate flag referred to on Instagram as ‘The Dixie Swastika’ was the final straw. Fair enough.
It’s been fourteen years since Taking The Long Way, a healthy selling US number one album – although the one before it, Home, featuring the great ‘Long Time Gone’ and their version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’, might be the better record. It’s seventeen years since lead vocalist Natalie Maines told a London audience that they were ashamed that George W. Bush was from Texas, just before the Allied invasion of Iraq, leading to widespread blacklisting from country radio stations and even death treats. We live in a different world now though, right?
Whatever the reason for the long break – and there were tours and solo records in the interim – Gaslighter show that The Chicks – not the greatest band name of all time either – still do what they do best. The harmonies are still beautiful, the melodies are still strong enough to stick after just one listen, the production from Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray) is marvellously sympathetic and the instrumentation – especially Emily Strayer’s subtle banjo and Martie Maguire’s fiddle – is perfect. The only slight misstep is protest song ‘March March’, which feels parachuted in, despite its worthiness.
There’s no two ways about it though, nearly all the lyrics here are about betrayal and hurt. Divorce and heartbreak are, of course, nobody’s business but the people involved. That being said, the details are raked over – and The Chicks are the main song writers here - repeatedly. Fans possessing even a passing familiarity with the band's history - the references to Hollywood in the opening song, 'My Best Friend's Wedding' - will have little trouble pinpointing who and what is being discussed. The title track has big live number written all over it, but the subject matter is obvious, and you can probably guess what’s going on in ‘Tights On My Boat’. Titles like ‘Set Me Free’, ‘For Her’, the beautiful ‘Hope It’s Something Good’, and ‘Sleep At Night’ – as in “how do you?” – say it all. It's a record that'll resonate with anyone who's ever been put through love's wringer.
This is a fine album - expertly balanced between the poles of radio friendliness and artistic integrity - which deserves to be as successful as it predecessors, but it must have been a tough one to make, despite the fact that it's a pleasure to listen to. One hopes there's a measure of catharsis in these country blues.