on July 18, 2013
While I was tres impressed with the Court Yard Hounds' first outing, my first listen to Amelita BLEW ME AWAY! Excellent work, Ladies! Well done! I have been a follower of your music for a very long time. My partner and I have all of the original DC recordings. How great was it to be out shopping at NorthPark Mall on a Saturday afternoon, only to find you cowgirls singing your little hearts out by the big fountain? Then there was always a cold beer, or two, or three on a cool Summer evening out at the West End Market Place, listening to you ladies croon as the Texas stars came out.
You have both come so far since those days, and you should be proud. I personally believe Court Yard Hounds is some of your best work yet, if not the best. Having listened to DC recordings for so many years, I always wondered what your voices actually sounded like. I could hear them in the harmonies and backups, but I always wondered what you both would sound like up front on lead vocals. With the creation of CYH, I got my answer. My question immediately changed from "What would they sound like?" to "Where have these angelic voices been hiding all these years?"
Congratulations on another top-notch album. The effort you put into it shows. It is truly a gem.
on July 21, 2013
With the Dixie Chicks as a working entity on a hiatus that has now gone past the seven-year mark, the three gals that comprise the most successful female music group, country or otherwise, are on to separate things. Natalie Maines, of course, has gone into roots-rock with her recent solo debut album MOTHER. Meanwhile, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, having made a splashy 2010 duo debut as the Court Yard Hounds, are now out with a second album in the form of AMELITA.
While it may be tempting to compare the two acts, both Natalie on her own and Emily and Martie in their Court Yard Hounds gig, with what they achieved as a six-fisted (and Bushwhacking) trio, and perhaps view Natalie's album negatively, I don't think such comparisons are entirely accurate, let alone fair to either one. AMELITA, like the Hounds' self-titled debut of three years ago, is a very rootsy affair in a way that most conventional Nashville "product", to put it mildly, definitely isn't. Both sisters are very strong multi-instrumentalists, with Emily putting her bluegrass Dobro and banjo picking skills to good use, and Martie displaying her talents on viola, violin, fiddle, and mandolin. Martie handles the lead vocals on "A Guy Like You" and "Gets You Down", while Emily does the lead vocals on everything else, still sounding uncannily (and unintentionally) like Sheryl Crow. Their harmonies are also far better than any other working all-female vocal duos, and they do bear close comparison to what Linda Ronstadt achieved in her duo projects with both Emmylou Harris (on 1999's WESTERN WALL) and Ann Savoy (on ADIEU FALSE HEART).
As with their Dixie Chicks albums, the Hounds bring the traditionalist country instruments to the forefront; and unlike so much of the Nashville stuff that buries them under a loud, amped-up wall of bad Southern rock electric guitars, those instruments, especially Emily's crisp banjo playing on "Phoebe", show up quite clearly over a very sharp combination of the sisters' Texas musical roots and the Laurel Canyon/Topanga Canyon-based country-rock of the late 60s and early 70s. With the exception of "Gets You Down", which was written by Alex Desen and Salim Nouraliah, Emily and Martie had at least an individual (but largely dual) hand at penning the songs on the album.
Whether or not this brings the two sisters back together with their Chicks lead singer, still much-maligned by ultra-conservative country music fans ten years later for her Bushwhacking in Britain, AMELITA is an impressive work of rootsy America, clearly another great album for 2013.
Most know Emily and Martie best as members of The Dixie Chicks. But though the songs on their Court Yard Hounds new album are occasionally country-tinged, there's a lot more going on here as well.
Many songs on the album have a very warm, organic, natural musicality. Some bring to mind those of the early 1970s singer-songwriters, and the album cover even has a slightly faded, retro vibe. But it's not really nostalgic at all: these songs are fresh and homegrown.
There are ballads, as well as songs you can dance to. And quite a few you'll probably find yourself singing along to. I won't list and describe every song here, but rather highlight a couple. (There isn't a dud on the album, it was hard to pick.)
One of those is "Sunshine," about a person who brings the others around her down. But it won't bring you down; it's an instant mood-brightener. And, relatable: we've all known people like this.
"Rock All Night" is very uptempo, a party song, just plain fun. That's something this album does well - fun.
The upbeat "The World Smiles" gets stuck in your head - it's about keeping a positive attitude and believing in the good all around you.
I was a casual listener of The Dixie Chicks and somehow missed the Court Yard Hounds debut album (which is in my shopping cart now). This band has really won me over with Amelita.
A free advance CD was provided by Columbia Records for unbiased feedback, without any obligation.
on August 9, 2014
I was a HUGE DC fan, and bought the first Court Yard Hounds CD with excitement. The first CD wasn't bad, but it wasn't like the DC works from before. I bought this CD hoping that things would improve with time; they did not. I tried to get through this CD but found myself often pushing to the next song, and when I got to the next song, it sounded to me the same as what I'd just skipped past. I felt the entire CD was really "vanilla" -- vanilla ice cream flavor being nothing exciting, though not offensive to most people. If you're looking for barely noticeable background music, this is your CD; if not, spend your money elsewhere.
on August 20, 2013
Some folks maybe Dixie Chicks fans. Some maybe Court Yard Hounds fans. This album will satisfy both. While Court Yard Hounds may not be able to escape the comparisons to the Dixie Chicks, when you have 2/3s of the band, it unfortunately comes with the territory. Fortunately for Emily and Martie, they showcase their talent and truly show why it takes more than just a singer to make great music. If the first album from CYH didn't already hook you, this album truly shows how musically inclined and talented Marite and Emily are.The title track is great however the entire album is great as well. If you are on the fence, I say give it a try. What you have to gain greatly outweighs what you have to lose. I've never heard of someone who enjoys an album say 'man I love the album, but I don't think it was worth it." Usually the latter part of that statement is reserved for albums that one is dissatisfied with. Which is something you would not be if you purchase this album.
on August 30, 2013
I'll be honest....I was REALLY disappointed when I heard this album for the first time. Where was the depth and energy and originality that graced 2010's COURT YARD HOUNDS, making it one of the year's biggest and best surprises?!? Everything here, by contrast, seemed so...slight...and tentative.
Granted, there's no denying thst my appreciation grew and I warmed up to the disc with each new listen (I would actually rate this a 3.5 star album if I could, but I had to round down...I gave COURT YARD HOUNDS 4 stars, and I still think it's a far superior release), but I'm still missing a lot of the elements that made the pair's debut effort so special.
For instance, "See You In The Spring", the stunning duet with Jakob Dylan, was one of CYH's stand-out cuts. I would have loved to have seen something like that track duplicated here with, say, Chris Isaak or Stevie Nicks.
And where is (more of) the spirited pop and edgier rock that made cuts like "The Coast" and "It Didn't Make A Sound" just explode out of the speakers? Too much of AMELITA sounds the same, sort of a watered-down Sheryl Crow-lite.
I certainly think sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire are on to something ~ Court Yard Hounds are definitely the real deal! ~ but it's still WAY too early in the game to be playing it safe. COURT YARD HOUNDS had an air of adventure to it, a glorious feeling of abandon. AMELITA, on the other hand, is all too safe, coming across as more respectable than raucous.
The disc opens with the brilliant "Sunshine." An airy, light-hearted melody juxtaposed with stinging lyrics ("Tonight you'll grace us with all your inner presence/While your backhanded compliments suck the air/Out of the room") dances out of the speakers, aided and abetted by Robison's shimmering lead vocal. A very nice way to kick things off!
Even better is the disc's pulsating title track. With it's rapid fire percussive beat, almost frantic strings, and killer harmonies, there's almost a Beatlesesque vibe going on here. Little things like handclaps and guiros only add to the magic. This certainly isn't a rock track, but it DEFINITELY sports a rock ATTITUDE, something that the rest of the disc could have used more of.
It's at this point that things start to get a tad bit...snoozy. "The World Smiles" is nice enough, what with it's minimal arrangement, breathy vocals and upbeat lyrics ("If I believe in the good stuff/And open my eyes up/The world smiles"), but, honestly, this track is completely forgotten three more cuts into the album.
Far stronger is "Aimless Upward." There's an intense urgency to the cut that just draws you in. Hypnotic, captivating, deep...it all comes together here, thanks to the sparse (yet spirited) arrangement, subdued vocals and sincere lyrics ("We fool ourselves with our happy tunes/Convinced the beauty is in the bloom/Can I let go of my vanity"). Once again, very nice.
It could be said that Maguire suffers from Nancy Wilson Syndrome....much like the Heart guitarist, her lead vocals are few and far between, and often hit or miss. COURT YARD HOUND's were spot-on. AMELITA's? Not so much. "A Guy Like You" is just WAY too cutesy for it's own good, all cotton candy coy and pink lemonade light. A major misstep.
When a song has the word "rock" in it, it needs to do just that...ROCK! That just doesn't happen with "Rock All Night"...the arrangement never goes beyond a seven (everyone knows rock has to go to an "eleven!"), while the lead vocal is sweet and safe, vs. sweaty and saucy. And what the heck is a "Himalaya ride?!?" Whatever it is, it must be pretty tame....just like this track, which veers very close to karaoke.
"Phoebe" creeps dangerously close to CYH's "Ain't No Son", what with it's gothic intensity and chilling visuals, but that's O.K. ~ when something works, it's worth repeating! Plus, the cut sports the disc's best line: "The golden rule/You'll never learn in school/Boys can be mean/But girls are down-right cruel." One of AMELITA's best!
There's a wistful resignation to "Divided" that's both charming and heartbreaking. Is this relationship permanently broken, or just temporarily split asunder? Everything from the thoughtful arrangement and understated instrumentation to the delicate lead and harmony vocals leaves you guessing, wondering what will happen next. You can't ask for much more from a song.
Maguire once again takes the lead on "Gets You Down", which fares only slightly better than "A Guy Like You." There's a demo-ish quality to the cut ~ almost like two kids singing into a tape recorder in their bedroom ~ that's somewhat disconcerting. To be honest, I would have loved to have seen them do a 180 here, and do this as a supple rocker, vs. a whispery ballad. We'll call this one a "Could've been."
Robison delivers her best vocal on "Watch Your Step", which also happens to be the album's best cut. Sexy and spirited, she just soars! Toss in a crackling arrangement that allows each and every instrument to rock out (even though it's pretty much all acoustic strings!), and THIS is the sort of spirit and groove and GUTS that AMELITA could have used more of. LOVE this song!!!!
After the utter exhilaration of "Watch Your Step", "The Road You Take" might be considered a let-down by some, but they would be only partially correct. With it's dour, yet distinct, arrangement, full-bodied lead vocal and observant lyrics ("In times of clarity/I see the bones we break/Aren't always gonna mend"), you actually have a nice little album closer.
But that's just not enough. It's clear that Court Yard Hounds are so much more than just a side project from two former Chicks, but if the sisters Erwin really want to be considered contenders, they'll need to push the envelope A LOT more on their next release. Here's hoping we see less of sweet little AMELITA on that album, and more of her sassy, slinky cousin, Angelita! (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics).