I suppose this puts the “Natalie Maines dragged the other two Chicks away from their roots” theory to rest.
The debut album from Court Yard Hounds, the duo comprised of sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, is an adult pop affair. This isn’t disappointing in its own right, being only a few degrees less country than the excellent Chicks album that preceded it, but what’s absent is both the urgency of that album’s material and Maines’ powerhouse delivery of it.
As on Taking the Long Way, the songwriting is done in-house, and the two sisters prove they are still quite adept with a pen. Some of the songs are as good as anything the Chicks have written or recorded. “Then Again” gets into the psyche of a self-destructive woman, while the stunning “Ain’t No Son” plays out like the prequel to “Top of the World”, with the narrator wreaking the havoc that he’d later rue upon his death.
But the album is hampered by playing down their strengths in favor of their weaknesses. Where Maguire and Robison have always shined is on their instruments, and there simply isn’t much of a showcase of their virtuoso talents. Long Way proved that they can stretch beyond their country and bluegrass roots, with the fierce fiddle on “Lubbock or Leave It” bordering on punk. There’s no such adventuring here.
This wouldn’t matter as much if they were able to compensate at the mic, but they make the strange choice of downplaying their sisterly harmonies for a warmed-over variation of post-Globe Sessions Sheryl Crow. The songwriting is strong enough to make this an interesting listen, with genuine gems like “See You in the Spring”, “Gracefully”, and “It Didn’t Make a Sound”, and I’d love to see them do these songs in a live setting that’s less restrained. But as it is, Court Yard Hounds plays more like a collection of lost demos than a cohesive album in its own right.