posted on July 07, 2010 19:00
A review of the The Courtyard Hounds debut album
Review Snapshot: Emily Robison and Martie Maguire – formerly of the Dixie Chicks are now recording new music under the moniker ‘Courtyard Hounds’. A few nuggets of brilliance here in this new album but overall it's watered down Chicks so expect to be a tad disappointed if you’ve been a loyal fan all these years.
The Cluas Verdict? 4 out of 10
Full Review: If it were not for the effeminate portraits on the album sleeve you mightwonder what a female group called ‘Hounds’ were doing in the Country/Pop section of your local music outlet. Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, long recognized as the supporting duo behind powerful lead vocalist Natalie Maines in the Dixie Chicks, have embarked on their own separate grouping: The Courtyard Hounds.
Robison’s marriage breakup from singer/songwriter Charlie Robison heavily influences the album. Divorce metaphors are abound in ‘The Coast’, where "its time for some sunny weather”. ‘Delight’ celebrates new beginnings and ‘See you in the Spring’ is a somber collaboration with Jakob Dylan about two long-distance lovers. The lyrics depict harsh conditions “Cold Chicago nights, chains on tyres.” but their delivery lacks enough concentration of emotion to make me care anything about this geographically-challenged couple.
Almost everything in this album is timid in its approach and bland in itsrecital. Serious issues are tackled but the majority simply lack any sort ofpunch that would engage a variety of fans in the way the Dixie Chicks did.
Relationship breakup again forms the core of a very despondent ‘April’sLove’: “You didn’t take a stand, you didn’t hold my hand”, while ‘I Miss You’ has that sunny day lying on grass melody we’re familiar to hearing on an upbeat episode of Gray’s Anatomy. The melody is cute and I do like the song but the infantile repetitive lyrics of “I miss you, I can’t wait to kiss you” leave me feeling a tad silly singing it in the car. The cute element definitely becomes nauseating after a while. As a self confessed ‘girlie girl’ that’s a worry for me as surely there’s a whole Dixie Chick audience out there being alienated.
With their contentious anti-Bush comments the Chicks were never afraid tospeak their mind, while musically they incorporated traditional instruments when aspiring to bridge the gap between country and rock. With two thirds of the chicks now hounds it's disappointing to see much of this fervor being tamed.
On the upside there are two memorable tracks on the album. The bluegrass tones and harmonies at the beginning of the brilliantly catchy ‘Aint No Son’ are the first reminiscence of the country rock we were hoping for. Perhaps years of harmonizing has left Robison inhibited, as singing in the third person is the only time we hear any real conviction in her voice. Her disdain for a small-town homophobic father in ‘Aint No Son’ is obvious in the lyrics and the fired up melody that accompanies them; “You aint no son to me, 8 pound baby boy I bounced on my knee “. ‘Then Again’, is also memorable due to its similarly catchy melody and self-deprecating lyrics.
‘Aint no Son’ and ‘Then Again’ are the two saving graces on the album. But they’re simply too buried amongst all the other melancholy for me to encourage anyone to run out and buy this. The cynicism in both these tracks highlight Robison’s obvious ability to liberate her emotions and accompany them with a truly likable melody. Evidently, the talent is there, which suggests that with a little more self-belief, this could have been a really impressive debut album. These are two vocally strong musicians, gifted on two of music’s most rousing and emotive instruments; the banjo and fiddle, yet neither is exploited. With such a blatant album cover might I suggest it cheating the fans a little to utilize their former glory in their self-promotion, but ignore it in the production, performance and quality of their songs.