On their second album, Amelita, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire of Court Yard Hounds have proven the worth of their side project.
The harmonizing and songwriting sisters’ strong work ethic has produced a rich sounding collection of rootsy country-rock material.
Robison and Maguire, late of the erstwhile Dixie Chicks, have kick-started another career away from that mega-selling band. The two are/were the core of the Chicks’ sound as the main songwriters and multi-stringed instrumentalists.
The banjo-plucking Robison has established herself comfortably and convincingly in the lead singer role. The sisters’ sound is natural and ultra sweet and they’ve wisely chosen to highlight their harmonies in an acoustic-based band setting. Their group is intuitive and adept at the quicksilver country-bluegrass lines and thumping backwoods picking.
The material is clever and thoughtfully arranged – they contrast sweet chord patterns and pretty “up” melodies with lyrics that are biting and sarcastic (Sunshine and Amelita). The latter song is a super catchy guilty pleasure and it suggests the classic crossover era of ‘70s’ country rock.
The Hounds also mix their country/roots sound with a bouncy rock sound, as Robison cops a little bit of Sheryl Crow’s vibe on the riffy Watch Your Step. The energy of these songs suits the sisters’ tight harmonies and dueling instrumental interplay.
They take those elements and turn them around on the dark-themed Phoebe. The track has a winding banjo riff snaking under Robison’s bitter tale of small-town revenge. The Appalachian jam-out at the song’s conclusion is a blast.
The duo has an affinity for moody ballads as well, and Divided is a standout song among many quieter tracks.
With the sisters harmonizing like southern sirens, Amelita is a tuneful and relevant work at home in roots-based country rock or Americana, with no glitches or down time. It’s strong all the way through.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who writes about new releases every Friday in Street Sounds.