To quote some of my Popdose colleagues, “It’s like a female-fronted Jayhawks.” Depending how you feel about the gender-flip of the statement, that might come off as a backhanded compliment to anyone who doesn’t know how much we love the Jayhawks, which is a lot. The sentiment is warranted because the album is exactly the kind of country-styled pop you were hoping for, and whenever it’s time to kick a little ass, the Hounds have the boots to leave a print. The opening track “Skyline” is a softly sung acoustic ballad which gives little clue to the breezy singalong of the following “The Coast.” Neither tip you off to the rocker “Ain’t No Son” which seems like the southern-styled rebuttal to Genesis’ “No Son Of Mine,” a tale of a father sick and tired of his wild child son’s ways. Bolstered by a grimy bassline, the track exemplifies the balance the record strikes and shows off the variety of sides. The best debuts point to the future and all the directions an act can take, and the Hounds have that covered solidly.
The argument leveled by a few against the duo is that Emily Robison’s vocals are so sweet they negate the fire of the “angry” tunes, and that might be true for those who were steeped in the Chicks’ discography. Seeing the album from a different perspective, that of one who never plunked down cash for a Dixie Chicks release, I thoroughly enjoyed Robison’s tone. It’s a beautiful sound if you allow yourself to sink into it. Maguire’s turn at the mic on the track “Gracefully” is equally gorgeous and indicates the thankless task they were saddled with. Of course they don’t have the edginess of Maines’ voice, but if they attempted to rip it up a bit they’d be tagged as desperate, in need of a clone of the departed member versus making it on their own terms. To further my point, I received this album as a digital file for the sake of review and still wound up buying it. To the good people at Sony Music, please take note.
Forget all that — turn on the track “I Miss You,” the song that really stuck to me with the Jayhawks comparison. It’s not a pale imitation and it’s not Robison and Maguire trying to repeat their own selves. It’s a fairly simple song but it is solid as stone and fills me with a sense of a comfortable feeling for some reason. It says that if the future finds Natalie Maines continuing to be mercurial, whether that’s real or just my imagination plugging holes, we’ve got Court Yard Hounds and that’s a very good thing. They’ll never merely be backup Chicks again, that’s for sure.
Court Yard Hounds is available from Amazon.Com.