Music Review: Court Yard Hounds

Tuesday, May 04, 2010
By Abbey Khan

Today marks the debut of the self-titled album Court Yard Hounds from sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks. The newly formed band took their name from a novel Robison had been reading entitled City of Thieves by David Benioff, where a fictional book called The Courtyard Hound exists within the book itself.

Just like the songs the girls recorded as part of the Dixie Chicks, this album is honest and personal. While many of the songs were inspired by Robison’s recent divorce, she insists the album isn’t entirely about her life. “Everyone from our manager to our publicist already thinks it’s completely autobiographical, that everything’s so true and personal,” Robison said. “And it IS personal, but not everything is my life, even though people are gonna think it is. It’s better just to say that maybe 70% of it’s true, but I’m not gonna tell you which parts.”

Interestingly enough, Gracefully, which seems to talk about divorce, was actually written by Maguire, who also sings the lead. “You, you wanna stay / Baby, I wish you would go / Please don’t make it so hard on me / It tears me to pieces, you know / We’re no good together.” Perhaps Maguire was so in tune with what her younger sister was going through that she was able to parlay those emotions into a song.

Courtyard Hounds wasn’t exactly planned. Robison was penning songs for future Dixie Chicks albums, but when she realized that their haitus was indefinite, she began writing songs for other artists and movie projects. In addition to her feelings that the demos were too deep and personal to give away, her sister would email her after reviewing each new demo, saying, “You better not pitch this or I’m going to kill you.”

With Natalie Maines out of the picture, Robison takes lead on most of the songs. “It can be intimidating when you sing with someone with the power that Natalie has,” Robison said. “Martie and I have always been harmony singers, so you take your place in the mix. It was a huge learning curve for both of us—because Martie sings lead on one song, too—to figure out what your voice is, after you’ve sung so long just trying to blend.”

“I don’t think I could have done this five or ten years ago with Martie,” Maguire confesses. “I would have been too timid, too shy, too ‘Oh no, I can’t do that.’ Now, I think, if some people don’t like it, that’s fine. Even if we have just 10 percent of the people who reacted to us before, or only new fans, whatever it is…we can make something of that.”

Just because the duo have their own band now, this doesn’t necessarily mark the end of the Dixie Chicks. “I think the elephant in the room for people is always ‘Well, what’s going on with the Chicks?’ When that presents itself, we’ll figure out how to marry the two,” Robison said. “Natalie will be the first one to tell you that she’s very supportive; she just doesn’t want to be in the studio and going through the whole process right now. Martie and I love to work and create and be making something, so being off was difficult for us. Just to be able to fulfill that and not have to dismantle the Dixie Chicks—why can’t we do both? We’re going to push to make it a complete entity and have fun with it.”

The album is pretty straightforward and raw, saying exactly what they mean. Although 11 of the 12 songs were authored or co-authored by Robison while she was going through a difficult time in her life, the album is not at all depressing, just very sincere and sometimes even cheery as in the case of Delight. Some of the songs even contradict themselves with the lyrics and music going in opposite directions. In I Miss You, the woman longs for her love, but the sound is very upbeat, while it’s predecessor Fairytale is hopeful but is set to sad music. Towards the end of the album, the women have finally come into their own and have found their truth in I Didn’t Make A Sound and Then Again, the standout song of the album.

Rating: B+
Tracks: 12
Release Date: May 4, 2010
Label: Columbia Records

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