Album Review: Court Yard Hounds – Court Yard Hounds
Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks, have secured their place as one of the premier family collaborations in country music history. With livewire lead singer Natalie Maines at the helm, the Chicks emerged as the dominant creative and commercial force on Music Row at the turn of the century.
Now the sisters are doing it for themselves. Maines has taken a lengthy sabbatical after the trio’s polarizing 2006 album Taking the Long Way, an aggressive riposte at the trio’s harshest critics after their infamous Bush-bashing incident. Her bandmates have undergone a makeover as the Court Yard Hounds, a name drawn from the best-selling novel, City of Thieves. Court Yard Hounds is a simple grace note, a triumph of spirit and song that bodes well for their future as a duo. The pair spell out their everyday dramas across broad, acoustic textures, blending ’70s Cali rock with coffeehouse folk. Though the album doesn’t have the instant impact of their earlier work, the wistful harmonies are a sweetly subtle pleasure.
Robison steps up as the duo’s principal singer, and her plaintive wail–a neat cross between Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin–sounds like a relic from the early Lilith Fair years. She sings with an aching romanticism, twisting simple, straightforward melodies around evocative stories. There are no cheap gimmicks or cheeky lines on Hounds; the mood is, for the most part, brooding and based largely on Robison’s divorce from Lone Star singer-songwriter Charlie Robison two years ago.
In Texas, the Hounds have found their muse. The haunting opener, “Skyline”–inspired by the view from Robison’s San Antonio loft–begins with Maguire’s lilting fiddle and an emotional bulldozer: “What am I doing here in such a lonely place?” For the next eleven tracks, Robison searches far and wide for her answer, tying stitches on her rough-and-tumble heart as she goes. Longing to be carefree, she heads towards the gulf shore on “Coast” where “nothing ever seems to matter.” On the gentle valentine “April’s Love,” her southern gal is matched up with a northern boy played sharply by Jakob Dylan. Robison strikes an oddly hopeful chord though their long-distance love affair is ill-fated.
The Hounds have equal success when turning their attentions outward. Their most emotionally charged offering is a gripping piece of social commentary called “Ain’t No Son,” led with a nifty banjo-driven intro. The vicious reply of a father lashing out against his newly-out son, it storms along with the help of a swelling electric guitar. The man’s bigoted views boil over into an angry standoff: “Don’t you know I can’t show my face in this town?” It’s a song for the outcast, a role that Robison and Maguire know all too well.
More joyful songs like “Delight (Something New Under the Sun)” and “Fairytale” provide a brief respite, but for the Hounds, any happiness is often short-lived. Robison finds momentary bliss on “Fear of Wasted Time” as she watches her children sleeping. Though Hounds comes to a rest soon after, she does not. “The feeling’s very strange,” she sighs, “I’m waiting for the pain.”
- Janice Brooks: Hopes somebody gets those memos about drinking songs. Meanwhile I'm feeling a lot of slots with Bluegrass.
- Leeann: Great news about Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White's duet album! Absolutely appalling about the Keith Urban concert!! Both the rape and …
- bob: I found the Billboard article about country music radio needing an alcohol intervention interesting. Songwriter Adam Wright is quoted as …
- Matt: Definitely agree with C.M. about Maddie & Tae. Certainly not the tidal wave of change some claimed it is or …
- Dave D.: Good stuff, as always. My copy of Producing Country arrived yesterday, and it looks to be as good as …
- Scooter: I agree Holly Williams can do no wrong in my eyes. Such a good album and great to see live …
- Carrie Mclaughlin: Your my Hero Mr. Jim Lauderdale!!! Come to Alaska Please? hehehehe
- Jeremy Dylan: You should check it out Dave D. It's from the first (and strongest) season.
- Leeann: Wow! I love that Holly William's cover of "No Surrender"! She's gotten to be so good.
- luckyoldsun: I made it through a minute of that "Girl In a Country Song Video." Man, that sucks.