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Austin360 On The Record: The Chicks, David Ramirez, more

Peter Blackstock
The Chicks (l-r, Martie Maguire, Emily Strayer and Natalie Maines) are releasing "Gaslighter," their first album in 14 years, this week.

Austin360 On The Record is a weekly roundup of new, recent and upcoming releases by local and Austin-associated recording artists.


The Chicks, “Gaslighter” (Columbia). On their first studio album in 14 years, the artists formerly known as the Dixie Chicks re-establish themselves as one of American popular music’s most important and enduring bands. “Gaslighter” essentially marks their third act: After three albums from 1998 to 2002 that sold more than 30 million copies, they overcame the political fallout from singer Natalie Maines speaking out against then-president George W. Bush in 2003 with “Taking the Long Way,” which swept the major categories at the 2007 Grammys. Now comes “Gaslighter.” There’s very little trace of the Southern grassy twang that marked the band’s pre-Maines days as a Dallas-area quartet. (Perhaps this is their fourth act, then, if you count the albums that Chicks sisters Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire made early on with Laura Lynch and Robin Lynn Macy.) Never quite an Austin band but with strong local ties — Natalie’s father Lloyd Maines, who plays pedal steel on five “Gaslighter” tracks, has lived here for two decades — the Chicks feel more connected on this record to Los Angeles, where most of the recording was done with Jack Antonoff, who co-produced with the band. The extent to which this record feels different from the Chicks’ previous work likely traces to Antonoff, a member of indie bands Bleachers and Fun whose production credits include Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. (Also St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, who turns up on the “Gaslighter” track “Texas Man” as a guest guitarist.) Musically, these 12 songs are multilayered and exquisitely arranged, with Antonoff clearly central to shaping the sound. He’s credited as playing more than a dozen instruments, from guitar and bass to piano and organ to drums and percussion. Still, “Gaslighter” isn’t overproduced: Everything serves the songs, never getting in the way of the messages Maines and her bandmates deliver. Early attention to the album’s title track and subsequent single “March March” has perhaps misleadingly focused attention on political subjects, but in fact “Gaslighter” is first and foremost a breakup album, the bulk of its tunes apparently sparked by Maines’ recent divorce from actor Adrian Pasdar. (If the line “You know exactly what you did on my boat” in the title track wasn’t enough of a clue as to what went down, Maines spells it out even more bluntly in “Tights on My Boat”: “You can tell the girl who left her tights on my boat that she can have you now.”) There’s more anger on “Sleep at Night” — as in, “How do you sleep at night?” — alongside the wistful sadness of “Hope It’s Something Good” and the resignation of “Set Me Free.” Maines’ emotions come across most poignantly on “Young Man,” likely addressed to her sons: “Take the best parts of him as your own life begins … My blues aren’t your blues.” She steps out of her own shoes with “For Her” and “Julianna Calm Down,” songs of solidarity with other women battling their own hard times. And on “Texas Man,” she reconnects with romantic desire, her will and spirit as strong as ever: “If I’m not too much for you, then sign me up.” Strayer’s banjo plucks and Maguire’s string swells remain an integral part of the mix, along with their soaring harmony vocals, but every sonic element is woven into a rich pop-music tapestry that overflows with memorable melodies. Release-day happy-hour event at 6 p.m. Friday, July 17, via the band’s YouTube and Twitter accounts. Here’s the video for “Sleep at Night”:

David Ramirez, “My Love Is a Hurricane” (Sweetworld/Thirty Tigers). If the title of Ramirez’s fifth full-length release sounds romantically apocalyptic, there’s a reason for that. “I was born in August of 1983 just days after hurricane Alicia hit my hometown of Houston. As my relationship started ripping at the seams, I began to think of this storm that was a precursor to my birth,” Ramirez wrote in press materials that accompanied the album. His music has always felt deeply personal, and that’s even stronger in this set of songs about falling in and out of love. Working in Dallas with producer John Burt (Sarah Jaffe, Paul Cauthen), Ramirez both builds upon and extends the sonic textures of his previous works. From the atmospheric echoes of “I Wanna Live in Your Bedroom” to the title track’s dramatic minor-key turbulence to the steady-throbbing beat of “Easy Does It,” Burt couches these songs in a variety of arrangements which complement but never override the powerful voice that remains Ramirez’s greatest asset. Perhaps the most intriguing number is “Hell,” which rides a deep rhythmic groove and features Kelsey Wilson of Austin bands Wild Child and Sir Woman singing a verse she wrote. Album-release livestream at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 18,via YouTube. Here’s a recent live-session video of the title track:

Texas Gentlemen, “Floor It!” (New West). Launched in Dallas, Texas Gentlemen also includes an Austinite in co-founder Daniel Creamer, who fronts the band along with Nik Lee. Formed more as a collective backing band for projects by artists ranging from Nikki Lane to Joe Elyto Leon Bridges, the Gentlemen released their own debut album in 2017 and follow with this 13-song set produced by Matt Pence at his Denton studio plus additional sessions at Fort Worth’s Niles City Sound and the storied Muscle Shoals, Alabama, studio Fame. The Gentlemen weave together a broad range of American musical styles, from country and folk to R&B and soul to old-school rock & roll, creating a sound that feels deeply rooted in the past yet freshly contemporary in spirit. Highlights include the midtempo mid-album couplet of “Easy St.” and “Hard Rd.” (the former with a sly Dylan reference in the line, “How many times must a man fall down/ Before he learns not to get up off the ground”) and the sweetly countrified groover “Skyway Streetcar.” Physical copies of the album come with a “Floor It” board game suitable for pandemic isolation. Here’s the track “Train to Avesta”:

Mobley, “A Home Unfamiliar.” Austin American-Statesman writer Deborah Sengupta Stith describes this unusual video-and-music project featuring contributions from fellow Austin acts Shakey Graves, Sabrina Ellis and others as “a visual album featuring the work of 15 musicians and 15 filmmakers and compiled by expressive pop singer Mobley” that “drifts between cerebral, retro, futuristic and earthy. Emotionally, it moves from uneasiness to aggression to raw pain that will break your heart.” Read the full feature story, and watch Sengupta Stith’s video interview with Mobley, here:

In ‘A Home Unfamiliar,’ Austin all-stars document a strange time

Black Pumas, “The Electric Deluxe Sessions” EP (Amazon Original). The Grammy-nominated duo of singer Eric Burton and guitarist Adrian Quesada offers up new alternate versions of three songs from their 2019 debut album plus a re-creation of the Meters’ take on the Jimmy Webb song “Wichita Lineman” popularized by Glen Campbell. More about the EP, and their recent single featuring Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” in this interview with the band:

Black Pumas filter Glen Campbell through the Meters on ‘Wichita Lineman’ cover


JULY 24: Seela, “Cool”

JULY 24: Gurf Morlix, “Kiss of the Diamondback”

JULY 24: Mike Flanigin, “West Texas Blues”

JULY 24: Jesse Dayton, “Gulf Coast Sessions” EP

JULY 30: Barbara Nesbitt, “Someday, Maybe Sooner”

JULY 31: Margaret Chavez, “Into an Atmosphere” (We Know Better)

AUG. 21: Malik, “Spectrum” (Artium)

AUG. 21: Texicana Mamas, self-titled

AUG. 21: Stiletto Feels, “Push Back” (Nine Mile)

AUG. 24: Jonathan Terrell, “Westward”

AUG. 28: Wood & Wire, “No Matter Where It Goes From Here” (Blue Corn)

AUG. 28: Royal Forest, “Waiting Drum” (Nine Mile)

SEPT. 4: Bill Callahan, “Gold Record” (Drag City)

SEPT. 4: Jackie Venson, “Vintage Machine”

SEPT. 25: Band of Heathens, “Stranger”

OCT. 16: Giulia Millanta, “Tomorrow Is a Bird”

NOV. 6: Alan Moe Monsarrat, “Agriculture”

This cover of The Chicks' album "Gaslighter."