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Angry Chicks

Country trio turns songs on their new album into divorce court briefs

Of all of the snark that ensued upon the Dixie Chicks’ rebranding themselves “the Chicks,” none was funnier than this observation from the libertarian gadfly Tom Woods: “Now that’s a relief. I think everybody assumed they supported slavery with that earlier name! And when they eventually get told that the word ‘chicks’ trivializes women’s lives, well, we can look forward to new releases from ‘The.’”

What is not a laughing matter is the Chicks’ new release, Gaslighter (Columbia). Would that it were.

It kicks off perkily enough. The title cut (Track 1) and “Texas Man” (Track 3) strike just the right balance between friskiness and sass. But then the tempos begin to slacken, leaving the job of holding the listener’s attention to the lyrics. And most of those—even the ones unbesmirched by profanity—are a drag.  

There’s PC-checklist-box ticking (“March March”). There’s a mother-to-daughter version of The Talk (“For Her”). There’s a mother-to-son warning against toxic masculinity (“Young Man”). There is, in other words, exactly what one would expect from country music’s most self-conscious virtue signalers.

But mostly the lyrics—which recall nothing so much as William Congreve’s quote about the fury of scorned women—deal with the failed marriage of the Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines and the actor Adrian Pasdar. “I hope you die peacefully in your sleep,” goes one typical sentiment. “Just kidding. I hope it hurts like you hurt me.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that Pasdar did hurt Maines. If the details of “Sleep at Night” and “Tights on My Boat” are accurate, he wronged her in spades. But by working through her pain in such a public way, Maines turns her listeners into voyeurs while simultaneously giving the impression that she’s trying to get them on her side. And even if her side is the right one, and even if her listeners want to be enlisted, she’s abusing the songwriter-listener privilege by turning what’s supposed to be an art form into a divorce lawyer’s closing statement.

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Music

Ageless voices

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Shine On: Badfinger 1974 by Badfinger: Ultimately, nothing—not the power-­poppy “No Matter What,” not the radiant “Day After Day,” not the as-featured-on-Breaking Bad “Baby Blue”—dispels the pall that has hung over this tuneful foursome ever since its dissolution amid litigation, infighting, chicanery, and suicides. But in 1974, having disentangled themselves from Apple Records (where they labored in the long shadows of the Beatles), the members still thought they had a chance of putting their troubled past behind them and of capitalizing on what appeared to be a fresh start on Warner Bros. More than a few of the songs on this digital-only compilation suggest that, had they only stayed the course a little longer, they may have been right.

They That in Ships to the Sea Down Go: Music for the Mayflower by Passamezzo: You might not have realized it, but this year marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. (Strange, you think there’d be public celebrations or something.) You might also never have wondered what kind of music the ship’s 102 passengers (not counting crew) may have made to while away the time. Not to worry. This seven-member UK early-music ensemble has done the wondering—and the discovering—for you. Beginning with the contents of music books known to have been onboard (two psalters among them) and venturing into popular 17th-century singalongs in general, the program and performances humanize the Pilgrims with imagination and verve. And, as if the overall concept weren’t “controversial” enough, three selections celebrate tobacco.

Hate for Sale by the Pretenders: There’s a lot to like about this album: the punky energy; the prominence of James Walbourne’s guitar in the mix, the knowing changes of pace that honor Chrissie Hynde’s love of reggae, soul, and heartbreak (and of knowing changes of pace); the illusion, fueled by Hynde’s ageless voice and take-no-guff attitude, that some iteration of this band might go on making music this rough and tough forever—and this vulnerable. The heartbreak song is about what it’s called (“Crying in Public”), and it peaks with an anti-feminist couplet guaranteed to get under the skin of anyone still bothered by Hynde’s letting Rush Limbaugh use a Pretenders’ hit as his theme song.

Sockin’ It To You: The Complete Dynovoice/New Voice Recordings by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels: When both Ted Nugent and Chrissie Hynde cite a band as an inspiration, it behooves the uninitiated to discover what the fuss was about. Enter this three-disc package, which in chronicling Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels’ brief but intense career also documents the flash point at which rock and soul collided: Over 50 years later, the repercussions from the revved-up medley of Shorty Long’s “Devil With a Blue Dress” and Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” still shake windows and rattle walls. The group’s other charting singles (and many of their album cuts) followed the same formula, so if you enjoy one, you’ll probably enjoy everything else—at least up to the point that the Wheels came off.

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Music

Classical voices

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Thomas Fortmann: Gimme Twelve by various artists: Fortmann is the kind of composer about whom it’s tempting to say that he’s “still finding his voice.” On the evidence of these seven neo-impressionistic chamber pieces, however, he’s probably not looking. Other than their adherence to the chromatic scale, little unites them, resulting in a stylistic eclecticism made even more striking by the employment of five different ensembles and one solo organist to do the performing. A trio bangs and clangs its way through the 22-minute “Grafeneck 1940” while a septet animates two spirited excerpts from a chamber opera. Yet, taken individually (and “Grafeneck” perhaps excepted), the performances satisfy, particularly the Concertina Gregoriano and “The Murder of a Buttercup.”

Ernst Krenek, Piano Music, Volume Two by Stanislav Khristenko: Besides being one of the 20th century’s most formidable composers, Krenek was a gifted explicator of musical complexities—his 1939 book Music Here and Now, especially on the topic of atonality and its relationship to what came before, is a marvel of lucidity. The pianist Stanislav Khristenko, in turn, is a gifted interpreter of Krenek’s music, rendering it with a sensitivity, liveliness, and clarity that even listeners unfamiliar with the “language” will find hard to resist. Khristenko, in other words, understands Krenek’s ideas and how they developed. He even manages (with help from Peter Tregear’s liner notes) to put across that most elusive of Krenek’s qualities: his sense of humor.

God Save … by Zsigmond Szathmáry: To Brits and us their country cousins, two of these “original compositions on national hymns and anthems” will sound especially familiar as their melodies, whether going by the name of “God Save the King” or “America (My Country ’Tis of Thee)” are identical. What keeps their juxtaposition from sounding repetitious is that the Hungarian Franz Liszt arranged one and the American Charles Ives the other—and that Szath­máry, an 81-year-old organist of exceptional sensitivity, articulates their differences with eloquence and enthusiasm. But most ear-opening of all is Davide da Bergamo’s “Sinfonia col tanto applaudito inno popolare ’Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.’” It’s not every organist about whom one thinks, “He sounds as if he’s having fun!”

Adam Wesolowski: Industrially by various artists: The title refers to the ornamental use of industrial sounds (percussive mainly) in both Silver Concerto (the second of this album’s three concerti) and Industrial Sinfonia. In the latter, the sounds of industrial machines augment the swooping strings of AUKSO—the Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy. In the former, dripping water and what might be pickaxes hitting silver-mine walls augment the glistening tones of the harpsichordist Aleksandra Antosiewicz and the Silesian Chamber Orchestra. Subsumed by vigorous tempi, easily processed melodies, and usually both, such gimmicks do not distract. The vigorous tempi and the easily processed melodies of Euphory Concerto and Encore Concerto are gimmick free.

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