The Chicks, "Gaslighter" (Columbia)

The Chicks didn't need to drop the "Dixie" from their name to raise suspicions about their reverence for American tradition.

With a title like "Gaslighter" — a term often used to describe President Donald Trump — it's easy to assume the trio's first studio album in 14 years marks their eager re-entry into a culture war that's grown only more heated since 2006's "Taking the Long Way." That record explicitly addressed the fallout from singer Natalie Maines' public criticism of President George W. Bush (and was rewarded with five Grammy Awards including album of the year).

Instead, "Gaslighter" turns out to be the Chicks' most intensely personal effort yet, with song after song apparently inspired by Maines' 2019 divorce. In the title track and "Sleep at Night" she lays out an ex's deception in brutal detail; "Set Me Free" describes "the weight of this hate" and pleads with the guy to sign the required papers already.

In the chipper yet sensual "Texas Man," Maines (who lives in Los Angeles these days) looks past the pain of betrayal to long for a fellow from her native state "who can feel at home here in the California sand."

If somewhat unexpected, the tight focus on relationships reflects the Chicks' understanding that, for women, the personal is always political — that to call out the manipulations of one man is to identify the systems that combined to enable them.

Produced by Jack Antonoff — known for his work with Lana Del Rey, Lorde and Taylor Swift — the album sounds sleek but homey, as banjo and fiddle mix with keyboards and programmed percussion behind the Chicks' crisp vocal harmonies. But although you can hear the women's delight in using fresh textures and colors, "Gaslighter" doesn't have the feel of a veteran act desperate for a reboot.

Indeed, one of the most gratifying aspects of "Gaslighter" is its emphasis on the concerns of middle age. In "Young Man," Maines sings tenderly about explaining her ex's misdeeds to her two sons, while "Hope It's Something Good" describes the singer's attempts to busy herself in a newly empty home.

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

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