With The Dixie Chicks seemingly on recording hiatus, this has been a productive year for the trio in other configurations. For sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, that translates into the second volume of the California sunshine pop sounds under the moniker The Court Yard Hounds three years after its debut. And once again, Maguire and Robison know a thing or two about sisterly harmonies, bright sounding songs and a few twists and turns.
This isn't a straight-ahead country disc (although far more so than did Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines on her solo debut, "Mother," which purposefully eschewed a country vibe). Think of The Hounds as being on the same musical turf as Sheryl Crow. In this day and age, that makes perfect sense, especially considering Crow makes her country debut in September.
Robison and Maguire, however, add a slew of country touches, such as mandolin from Maguire on the lead-off Sunshine about a person who exudes anything but that in attitude, banjo on The World Smiles from Robison and pedal steel on Gets You Down. Maguire punctuates numerous songs with her fiddle playing, so much so that it sounds like a string orchestra at times (the catchy single Amelita).
Robison assumes almost all lead vocals except for the slightly bluesy A Guy Like You and Gets You Down. Robison possesses a pretty voice, nothing like the toughness and attitude of Maines, but she is no slouch whatsoever. Maguire offers a change of pace vocally and equally is up to the task. The sisters had a hand in writing almost all of the 11 songs, with many presumably touching on the break-up of Robison's marriage to Charlie Robison. There is a most touching song, Phoebe, about a western Massachusetts teen, Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide in the wake of bullying.
The sisters produce the disc along with Jim Scott, and they obviously know what they were doing by throwing in a variety of sounds and styles. The sound is mainly acoustic, which serves them quite well because that dovetails with the light, airy sounds of the songs. Rock All NightThe 11-song release concludes with The Road You Take. On its face, the song is about taking chances in love, but it may take the musical road these two have taken with a reference to the Chicks. "I am not alone/and I, I can journey on/I won't leave it all to fate/ It's the road I take."
With releases like this, Court Yard Hounds are smart in pursuing an alternative musical muse. Robison and Maguire make their brand of music on their own terms.