This Week in Music, July 16, 2013: What were once (Dixie) Chicks are now (Court Yard) Hounds

Court Yard Hounds: Amelita

New release (Columbia; tour dates)
Photo by James Minchin

It’s instructive to remember that Emily Robison and Martie Maguire helped co-found the Dixie Chicks in 1989, a full 6 years before Natalie Maines was invited to join. Oh, and of course, Emily and Martie are sisters. Clearly, they have a bond that won’t break, and they use it to their musical advantage on Amelita, the engaging follow-up to their 2000 self-titled debut as Court Yard Hounds.

While Maines leans toward rock on her first solo album, Mother, the Hounds dance with the music that brung them to the spotlight as young Chicks. Which is to say, the stripped-down, often unplugged country/folk/bluegrass sounds of Amelita have enough truly wide-open spaces to allow for Robison’s banjo and Dobro and Maguire’s fiddle and mandolin to carry the tunes, along with Robison’s appealing lead vocals.

There’s much to love here, from the peppy put-down of “Sunshine” to the deep but soaring ballad of “The Road You Take.” And take note: When the Hounds decide to “Rock All Night,” they do it with an acoustic guitar upfront, not to mention a metaphor — a Himalaya ride — that’s straight out of a county-fair midway. The following track, “Phoebe,” rocks even further, yet it still seems like it was born in the late Levon Helm’s barn.

To be sure, there are hooks, melodies, and sister-duo harmonies aplenty, especially for some Chicks fans who may have felt they were given a cold shoulder by Mother. But in the end, the marvel of Amelita is how music so rich and genuine can come across as casually as a cherished midsummer chat with a friend on a porch swing.