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Album review: Court Yard Hounds, "Court Yard Hounds"

court yard houndsCourt Yard Hounds lack bite on their debut album. (By Bruce Gilbert)

By Chris Richards

Now here's a debut album with real powder-keg potential.

When lead singer Natalie Maines sent the Dixie Chicks into that dreaded limbo known as "indefinite hiatus," sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire (the secondary and tertiary Chicks) grew flustered. So they started their own band. They gave it a tough name. And the younger sister took the lead, penning songs about her 2008 divorce from country twanger Charlie Robison.

Press play and wait for the whole thing to go kablooey, right?

Sorry. The Court Yard Hounds' self-titled debut does no such thing. It's tepid, torpid and disappointingly pleasant. Where Robison should be offering a tour of her battle scars, she emerges from the wreckage of her divorce and the inertia of her band sounding cool and detached. No tears were shed during the making of this album.

(Prim, proper and polite, after the jump.)

As vocalists, Robison and Maguire can harmonize with the best of them, but as Court Yard Hounds, the sisters sound too stately, too polite - while delivering lyrics that only sidestep the minefields of heartbreak.

Things get particularly wishy-washy with lead single "The Coast." Pining for "Blue skies, green water / White birds in the air," the duo thread their voices through the beat like a pair of crisscrossing shoelaces. But when the song's refrain reaches its fifth go-round, the title feels appropriate.

What a disappointment. Angsty back story aside, these are two commanding musicians who cut their teeth on the bluegrass circuit for years before teaming up with Maines in the '90s. Many have cited (or blamed) Maines for pushing the Dixie Chicks away from those bluegrassy pastures, but these soft-pop melodies suggest otherwise. Instead of reaching that high, lonesome sound, the Hounds offer a flat, handsome sound.

Many of these tunes would have sounded perfectly natural wafting across the Lilith Fair grounds in 1997. "Fairytale" evokes a less-fanciful Sarah McLachlan. "Delight (Something New Under the Sun)" sounds like a less-feisty Sheryl Crow. (Fittingly, the Hounds are slated to join the resuscitated Lilith Fair tour this summer, just a few weeks after a very recently reformed Dixie Chicks are scheduled to perform nine U.S. dates with the Eagles. Neither Hounds nor Chicks are currently scheduled to visit Washington.)

The album's only redeeming moment comes at the end - a music-box ballad called "Fear of Wasted Time." With it, Robison embraces young motherhood as a salve against regret. "I was raisin' Cain / Now I'm raising babies," she sings.

It's no fantastic battle scar, but it sure makes for one pretty little bruise of a song.

Recommended track: "Fear of Wasted Time"

By David Malitz  |  May 4, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: Court Yard Hounds  
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