The last time the Dixie Chicks reinvented themselves, it was hard to know what would come next. On their most recent album, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, the country trio wrote about being spurned by their industry, faced with uncertainty at the point when most bands on their level are finding career equilibrium. “They say time heals everything,” Natalie Maines sang in the mammoth single “Not Ready to Make Nice,” “but I’m still waiting.” They would continue waiting: After the tour for that album, they took a decade-plus hiatus from releasing new music together, during which their influence loomed larger than ever and their fight against a misogynist industry was echoed by a new generation of singer-songwriters.
“Our last album was the most personal and autobiographical we’ve ever been,” Maines said in 2019. “And then this one is 10 times that.” She was talking about Gaslighter, the group’s long-awaited comeback record, co-produced with Jack Antonoff. Like so many of their best songs, from “Goodbye Earl” to “Truth No. 2,” the title track gets to the heart of matters by getting personal. Its references to broken promises and Hollywood homes suggest that Maines is addressing her recent divorce from an actor husband, but its larger points speak to the same belief that has driven the group’s work from the beginning. “You liar,” Maines concludes each chorus. In their world, there is no stronger indictment.
With its buoyant rhythm and singalong chorus, “Gaslighter” merges the open-road optimism of their early records with the sharper power-pop of Taking the Long Way. Other than their vocal harmonies—still radiant and seamless, like different strings on the same instrument—banjo player Emily Strayer and fiddle player Martie Maguire accompany Maines in subtle ways, weaving the confrontational verses into the rallying cry of a chorus. The songcraft is so compact, and their trademark sound so welcome and familiar, that its message of empowerment comes across equally jubilant and defiant. And while it may soften the heavier implications of the title, their breezy mix of emotions makes its own statement. The Dixie Chicks know that history has been good to the battles they’ve fought. So now they’re working on their own time, answering to no one.
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