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Album review: Court Yard Hounds' self-titled debut

May 4, 2010 |  7:12 am

COURT_YARD_HOUNDS_240_ With the Dixie Chicks on hiatus, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire decided to go it as a duo while singer Natalie Maines extends her vacation from the recording studio. As the Court Yard Hounds, Robison and Maguire cover similar emotional territory — romance, heartbreak, social justice — but in more pop-driven musical settings.

There are still healthy doses of fiddle, banjo and steel guitar, but because Robison, who handles the lead vocals, has a kinder, gentler voice than her edgy Chicks partner Maines, the sound is more Sheryl Crow and, on occasion, the girl-group-with-a-drawl style of — dare we say it — Skeeter Davis.

At its most caustic, this debut can sound like the other shoe dropping on the divorce between Robison and roots musician Charlie Robison, who gave his less-than-charitable side of the story last year on his "Beautiful Day" album. "See You In the Spring," an engagingly tense duet with Jakob Dylan, serves up a disjunctive dialogue between two people who obviously aren't going to keep it together. "Fairytale" says a melancholy farewell to happily ever after, while "Gracefully" says in no uncertain terms "We're no good together/We settle like oil and water."

Robison wrote or co-wrote all the songs, except for Maguire's "Gracefully," and she's more intriguing when working in third-person situations such as "Ain't No Son," a plea from a guy who is gay and looking unsuccessfully for understanding from an intransigent parent. Things also pick up in "The Coast," a celebration of finding a sense of peace in a time of strife.

The songs and the sentiments ring of honest emotion, but not consistently of inspired lyric writing, and for all the well-considered inner reflection, you wish these Hounds had channeled a bit more of Maines' bark and bite.

— Randy Lewis

Court Yard Hounds
"Court Yard Hounds"
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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