Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Let’s Hear It for the Dixie Chicks

Among the cool bands we’ve never given a shout out to here before: the Dixie Chicks. Yeah, you heard that right, the Dixie Chicks. Texas may have a reputation as a troglodyte state but it’s given birth to plenty of smart, nonconformist women, among them Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. When they first came out back in the 90s, the Dixie Chicks were viewed as sort of the Go-Go’s of country music, which is more than a little off the mark – the Chicks may have started out as a bluegrass band, but by the time they achieved nationwide fame, they’d had most of the country squeezed out of them. And quality musicianship by women in Americana roots music is a hundred-year-old tradition. But they left a mark. Getting caught standing up to Bush regime repression won them a mainstream audience at the price of the lunatic fringe of their “country” crowd: if not for Maines’ offhand comment about being embarrassed that George W. Bush considered himself a fellow Texan, they probably wouldn’t have reached much more than cult status north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Berklee-trained Maines remains one of the most influential singers of her time, and by the end of the road they were writing most of their own songs, something unthinkable in millennial corporate Nashville. The new anthology, The Essential Dixie Chicks (up at itunes and all the usual spots) does justice to the women who somewhat unexpectedly became one of the very last genuinely good top 40 bands.

The double-cd compilation has most of their best stuff from their post-1998 era (they independently released a handful of highly regarded albums before then); for those who missed them the first time around, it’s as good as any way to get to know them. Interestingly, the sequence of tracks looks at their career in reverse, starting out with the bristling Not Ready to Make Nice, Maines’ response to the tea party crowd in the wake of her anti-Bush comments (which she’s vaccillated about since then). Their feminism is all the more genuine, considering how mundanely they expressed it: women refusing to assume traditional roles, keep sweet or subsume their dreams in order to get a guy. At their best, their sarcastic response to the conformity around them is pure punk rock, perfectly capsulized in the snarling Texas shuffle Lubbock or Leave It, where there are “more churches than trees.” Even before the Iraq war, they took an antiwar stance, more than alluded to here, notably on Traveling Soldier, which was a sizeable hit. The bitterness of the post-Top of the World stuff is visceral; barn-burners like Long Time Gone still resonate good vibes even if they’re basically pop songs with rustic instrumentation, and the blistering bluegrass breakdown White Trash Wedding shows they could still play that stuff if they wanted to. And Earl’s here too: ironically, it was that exuberantly silly murder ballad that established their cred with fans who’d missed their earlier, more traditionalist incarnation. The band’s future isn’t clear, although sisters Robison and Maguire continue as the Court Yard Hounds. If this is it, this retrospective sends them out with the respect they deserve.

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November 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Walking Hellos’ Debut Album is Delicious

The Walking Hellos’ new album Because I Wanted to Know is unpredictable, counterintuitive, tuneful fun. It’s a blast of rosemary cayenne popcorn flavor from down the hall. It makes you ravenously hungry. This band would have been huge in 1989. With their clear, sweet, sometimes chirpy, sometimes hypnotically atmospheric harmonies, the all-female, four-piece Brooklyn band reminds a lot of Lush, with the guitar-fueled, insistent intensity of the Throwing Muses and some growling, snapping Slits rhythm as well. Accordionist/banjoist Myla Goldberg (novelist and author of Bee Season, which earned her a song dedicated to her by the Decemberists), guitarist and occasional Pauline Oliveros collaborator Val Opielski, bassist Rose Thomson and drummer Heather Wagner shift unexpectedly and joyously from one style from another with an understated aplomb.

The album’s opening track, Botched contrasts woozy, out-of-focus slide guitar on the verse with an eerie, crescendoing chorus with goth tinges. The second cut, Little Boys is even creepier and explodes in sudden fireball of distorted guitar. The title track grows from a lot sparsely populated by hypnotic, reverberating guitar textures to an orchard of vocals and accordion – and a neat little bridge with some sort of wind instrument. “”I know how to do this, I know how to disappear, I’ve been on this job a thousand years,” Goldberg relates mysteriously.

Undertow 1 and Winter Remedy are cleverly arranged, dreampop-flavored numbers that contrast shimmery harmonies with Thomson’s marvelously trebly, gear-grinding, melodic Jean-Jacques Brunel-ish basslines. Lane 5 – unquestionably the coolest song ever set in a swimming pool – starts gentle and summery and goes out with a long yet terse distorted guitar solo. The album winds up with a percussively hypnotic, wickedly catchy, blazing dreampop rocker, an echoey instrumental fragment, the early Lush soundalike The Unloved and a dub-hop instrumental, Lane 5 After Hours. Wow. It’s been awhile since a band has packed so much fun into forty minutes or so. Look for this one on our upcoming Best Albums of 2010 list in December.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment