THE DIXIE CHICKS
After a two-year hiatus, the Chicks are again in the crosshairs with the release of their fourth album, “Taking the Long Way,” which debuted at the top of the sales charts with a first-week tally topping 562,000 units. More than 1 million units were sold in just four weeks.
It’s been more than three years since Natalie Maines criticized President Bush during a London performance (“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas”), and the trio of Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire is still feeling the repercussions of the remark. But they wouldn’t have changed anything.
Despite what could have been a career killer for most acts, the Chicks have survived — and flourished. They nabbed four Grammy Awards and sold more than 5 million albums, and their 2003 tour grossed $62 million — a country music record.
In addition, the controversy helped shape a national debate about free speech and the war in Iraq and pulled back the shiny veneer of the music industry to expose its darker sides, including the monopoly in radio, by sparking a congressional investigation.
Although widespread airplay for the new album is soft, it is less because outraged country radio fans are emailing station programmers (as they did in 2003) and more due to the pop leanings of the Rick Rubin-produced album that tackles hot-button topics like politics, infertility and Alzheimer’s disease.
Some fans also are saying the Chicks have shunned their country roots by making a rock record. (The disc’s polarizing first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” was virtually ignored by radio but is one of the top downloaded songs on iTunes.)
Despite the slow start of ticket sales for the “Accidents and Accusations” tour to support the album, Maines vows to continue to speak freely about current events.
“There is no plan,” she says. “I don’t say the same thing every night. And usually what I do is joke and stay lighthearted. But most people in the crowd at our shows agree with us, so it’s sort of preaching to the choir. It’s just having fun. And there is no political agenda.” Career mantra: “Nothing is as important as standing up for what you believe in,” says Maguire.
Role model: “James Taylor has been a huge influence to all of us. He surpassed every expectation of just how real and nice and genuine he’d be; a great teacher,” says Robison.
What’s next: Finish the tour, and perhaps perform for the troops in Iraq. “If people wanted us to go, we would go,” says Maines.
— Adam SandlerHILARY HAHN
Classical violinist altimore-born Hahn, 26, has skyrocketed to international fame in the last few years. Tracing an arc from veritable prodigy to mature young artist not seen since Teuton Anne-Sophie Mutter wowed fiddle mavens in the late 1970s, Hahn has captured not just the imagination of enthusiastic audiences but also the typically hard hearts of critics with her worldly performances of Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky and others. Her recent CD of Mozart violin sonatas overflowed with grace and charm.
These days, Hahn is taking stock. “Now that I’ve got the basics under my belt, I feel I can look at other things that interest me,” she says.
In addition to tackling new challenges from the seemingly inexhaustible classical repertoire — the violin concertos of Benjamin Britten and Arnold Schoenberg are good examples — Hahn is branching out, recently playing her first nonclassical shows with folk-rocker Josh Ritter and performing in Moscow with Austin-based And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. She also played on that band’s last album. “That really opened my eyes,” she says.
She expects to do more such things in the future. “It forces me to think harmonically,” she says. “When I’m playing nonclassical, I have to improvise, and I haven’t had to do that before.”
Hahn has applied those lessons to classical music as well. “It’s changed the way I hear things.” Career mantra: “It takes courage to create.”
Role model: “Someone who is creative and dedicates their life to their art without losing themselves.”
What’s next: A CD on Deutsche Grammophon of violin concertos by Nicolo Paganini and Louis Spohr, to be released Oct. 10.
— David MermelsteinMADONNA
Pop icon What does a diva do after she falls off a horse?
She gets up, sells 4 million copies of her album and rakes in $200 million from a world tour — a record for a female touring artist.
After breaking her collarbone, a hand and three ribs last August, Madonna resurfaced in October to shoot the high-intensity dance video “Hung Up” from her “Confessions on a Dance Floor” LP.
The show of her “Confessions” tour opens with images of Madonna taming a wild horse. Unleashing herself from a lowered disco ball, Madonna appears adorned in a black riding costume, dominatrix-style, only to later straddle a saddle and pole to “Like a Virgin.”
“The second we spoke of touring, we had to touch on the horse incident,” exclaims “Confessions” director and longtime Madonna choreographer Jamie King. “Here’s this woman who is so powerful and strong. She falls off a horse, breaks several bones and starts shooting ‘Hung Up’ before she’s completely healed. What mind over matter! The opening segment takes the piss out of the whole incident.”
The sold-out tour’s template, like “Dance Floor,” pays homage to Madonna’s dance club roots with a nonstop futuristic beat — a departure from the dour spiritual politico sounds heard in 2003’s “American Life.” With the release of single “Hung Up,” Madonna became the first artist to have a simultaneous No. 1 hit across Europe in every music format — single, album, download and mobile ring tone — last November. How’s that for a 49-year-old disco diva?
But as she nears the half-century mark, Madonna may make “Confessions” the end of her live appearances .
King likes to think there’s no end in sight.
“In the 10 years I’ve worked with Madonna, I have never seen her get tired,” says King, adding that she undergoes a two-hour sound check and rehearsal before each gig. “Madonna is like that battery bunny. She keeps on going.”
— Anthony D’AlessandroALEXANDRA PATSAVAS
Music supervisor Those who feel left out of the contemporary pop loop because logging on to MySpace or tuning into top 40 radio proves too trying might consider watching “The OC” or “Grey’s Anatomy.” Due in no small measure to music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas’ savvy song choices, these music-driven shows are must-hear TV.
“Music supervision, at its core, is really about helping the producers define a sound for their show,” she says. That means not only supplying from three to nine songs an episode for each series she handles, but negotiating the prices and red tape to clear them with artists, labels and publishers.
The Illinois native started her career by booking bands in college, then moved to Los Angeles in 1990, working at BMI and subsequently coordinating music for Roger Corman. In 1998 she opened her own business, which quickly led to her landing indie films and TV series such as “Roswell,” “Boston Public” and “Carnivale.” Her other current shows include “Rescue Me,” “Without a Trace” and “Supernatural.”
The success of “The OC” helped catapult to prominence such indie bands as Death Cab for Cutie. Ditto “Grey’s.” That show’s season finale used a Snow Patrol track that caused downloads of the Glasgow band to spike overnight.
Such TV exposure has made Patsavas a force within the music biz. But she downplays her role as a tastemaker: “In many cases, the songs I hear are so strong that you know they’re destined for great things. Using them in a big spot showcases that talent and helps reach fans sooner than they would have otherwise. I think we’re part of the story, not the whole story.” Career mantra: “All of the great ideas in the world (for a song in a scene) are meaningless unless you can produce cleared, on-budget music in time, especially in television.”
Role model: T Bone Burnett.
What’s next: More TV
— Jon Burlingame