Newest Review: ... Crow about it than anything else. There's an interesting simple beginning to "Delight (Something New Under the Sun)", which... more
Court Yard Hounds - Court Yard Hounds
Member Name: IainWear
Court Yard Hounds - Court Yard Hounds
Advantages: Some well crafted songs
Disadvantages: Falls down in comparison with the Dixie Chicks
I seem to recall whilst watching "Shut Up and Sing", the documentary following the Dixie Chicks and the furore around their potentially ill advised comments regarding George W. Bush and the war in Iraq that Natalie Maines had said she couldn't imagine not being without the other two members of the band, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. So it came as something of a surprise to discover that after a four year break between album, the next music from the Dixie Chicks would be by a side project called The Courtyard Hounds, containing the sisters without Maines.
It was always likely I'd want a copy of the album, but seeing the pair on the BBC Breakfast news early one morning showing the video to their first single "It Didn't Make a Sound" only firmed my resolve. So it was that I had a copy of the album in my hand on the day of release, which isn't something I tend to do all that often, preferring to wait until prices drop a little or at least until more reviews are available so I can decide how much it's worth paying for it.
Sadly, the album doesn't start well, at least from my stand point as a dedicated Dixie Chicks fan. "Skyline" is a mid-tempo country based tune with quite a laid back feel and quite simple instrumentation. The vocal harmonies are reminiscent of the sisters' work with the Dixie Chicks, but it sometimes feels like a song with no lead singer, lacking Maines' powerful voice from their usual sound as it is. With little variation in the sound or tempo, it's a song that gets slightly boring after a while and it ends up sounding a little more like Sheryl Crow than the Dixie Chicks.
"The Coast" has a louder, more up-tempo and more promising start. It's quite a jaunty little song, with a bouncy country backing that does, at times, seem to drown out the vocals. There's a country-pop sound to it again and whilst it's a more interesting song than the previous effort, it does still have more of a hint of Sheryl Crow about it than anything else.
There's an interesting simple beginning to "Delight (Something New Under the Sun)", which gives the song quite a stripped down country feel. This gradually builds with the addition of the vocal harmonies and then the instrumentation comes in, so it ends up sounding like a combination of the previous two tracks. It's a mid-tempo country track, but with vocals so weak they're buried under the instrumentation at times. This is another track you can't help but think would benefit from Natalie Maines' vocal, but it's not strong enough to be a proper Dixie Chicks song.
There's another simple opening to "See You in the Spring", which is a duet with Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, another band I'm quite a fan of. This is a simple country ballad, with the voices working well together and with the music kept far enough in the background that it doesn't overpower the vocals as it has done with earlier tracks. This is certainly the best song on the album up to this point.
However, best song so far credits are quickly snatched away by "Ain't No Son". The Dixie Chicks have never been afraid of tackling tough subjects with their lyrics, so a song about a father's negative reaction to his son announcing to his father that he's gay wouldn't be a stretch from this for the Courtyard Hounds. There's a gentle bluegrass start to the song before it explodes into a storming up-tempo country-rock song. Sadly, as with much on the album, the vocals are a little weak to really work well with the music.
"Fairytale" slows the pace right down. It's a well crafted pop-ballad with a slight country twinge to it. The vocals are once again slightly buried under the music at various points, but as this is a quieter song musically, this isn't quite as noticeable here as with some of the earlier songs. The issue I have with this song is that there's very little variation, so it does get a little monotonous before the end.
Next up is "I Miss You", which is another fairly sweet song. The country influence here is a lot stronger although it's still a rather nondescript song, without much variation throughout it, remaining at a static mid-tempo, which makes the song feel longer than it actually is. The vocal harmonies are well done, but the slightly weak vocal makes this sound more like a Sheryl Crow song than anything else.
Sadly, this is a theme that is to continue with "Gracefully". Once again, it's a well crafter pop ballad with hints of a country influence. Musically, it's a lovely song, with the strings complementing the country sounding guitar very well, but there's not enough variation to make it interesting, despite a section late on where the instruments take over. The lyrics are fairly standard and the vocals are once again a touch weak, which takes the edge off things slightly as well.
"April's Love" solves the album's issue of the vocals being overpowered by the music, by stripping everything back down to basics for the most part and it also solves the issue with monotony in the songs by changing tempo part way through. This is a very basic pop song with just a guitar and violin for the most part, which allows the vocals to shine through a little more. For the first time you can see that the Hounds do have lovely voices, just not the strongest ones around, especially given that they're usually backing vocalists to the vocal powerhouse that is Natalie Maines.
Despite resembling a Sheryl Crow song in almost every way, "Then Again" is one of my favourites from the album. It's a peppy mid-tempo country-pop song with an almost story telling lyric which reminds me of some of Crow's work. The vocals sound a lot like Crow as well, although the banjo and fiddle solo aren't really her usual style. It's a fun song to listen to, with lyrics talking about "flipping off hippies" and a nice foot tapping guitar riff making it quite enjoyable.
"It Didn't Make a Sound" was the song that I first heard from the album and it remains one of my favourites to this day, possibly second only to "Ain't No Son". The banjo backing makes it a country song, but there's also some great boogie woogie piano which gives it a slightly jazzy feel and really adds to the song and really gets your feet tapping. Essentially, this is a decent up-tempo pop-country song which is good fun to listen to and always makes me smile, despite the downbeat lyrical content. This again is about as close as the Hounds have come to emulating the Dixie Chicks, although again with the vocals not quite coming up to scratch.
Sadly, after a couple of entertaining tracks, "Fear of Wasted Time" ends the album on a slightly dull note. Again, it's a nicely crafter pop ballad with the vocal harmonies working well, but there's not a lot else to help it stand up and it meanders to the end of the album without grabbing the listener the way the previous couple of tracks did to me.
To say Courtyard Hounds" is a bad album would be unfair, as there are some decent moments here and there are some well crafter songs. But the vocals, although sweet, are frequently weak and drowned out by the music and there really is nothing particularly original here. The Hounds also suffer from having been a part of such a great group as the Dixie Chicks, which means comparisons are always liable to be drawn between the two acts and they suffer badly for that, particularly on the vocal front.
This isn't a bad album and with 12 tracks and 48 ½ minutes of music, it's not bad value with copies available for as little as £3.99 from Amazon. But it's an album more likely to appeal to fans of Sheryl Crow than fans of the Dixie Chicks, such is the sound of the majority of it. As someone who is a far greater fan of the Dixie Chicks than I am of Sheryl Crow, I did feel a little disappointed by this, but there are enough decent if not spectacular moments here that I'm glad I have the album, even if it does ultimately leave me wishing there was another Dixie Chicks release due very soon.
Summary: An album that proves three Dixie Chicks are better than two.