Imagine the scenario of a triple bill show featuring Natalie Maines, the Court Yard Hounds and the Dixie Chicks. Unlikely maybe but with all three entities of the ‘Greatest ever country act’ currently active, it’s not out of the realms of possibility. A new recording by the Dixie Chicks, who are headlining a series of Canadian festivals this summer, is another long shot given the recent musical direction of Maines and now the new Court Yard Hounds album but the fact Natalie, Emily and Martie are making new music is a joy to treasure.
For their sophomore album under the Court Yard Hounds banner, not forgetting their pre-Natalie Dixie Chicks days, the Erwin sisters have once again turned to producer Jim Scott to successfully steer the AMELITA project to its release. Better known by their married names, Emily still keeps the famous Texan musical family name of Robison after her divorce from Charlie and has taken lead vocals on all but one of the eleven tracks. The trademark fiddle of Martie Maguire which took a little backseat as the Dixie Chicks searched for a post-incident direction is back with a vengeance and she has also stepped up her writing input with a major contribution.
The renewed optimism that Emily reveals in the press release snippets is endemic to the sound of the album which breezes along with a carefree attitude. The sound is rooted in the fabric of Texan music with enough sophistication to court some mainstream or Americana radio airplay but even if the path was clear, it is not really a release to match the ideals of country radio.
The prelude to the album is a four song EP release featuring the lead off track ‘Sunshine’ which sets the tone for an album packed with positive vibes. Title song ‘Amelita’ is also previewed on the EP and this well constructed effort has its rightful place as part of the outset of this album. By the time the third track ‘The World Smiles’ smothers your senses, the record’s flavour has been consumed sufficiently to leave its mark. The vocals of Emily have responded well to the responsibility of lead status and although the overall band sound probably defines the record, their presence on songs such as ‘Aimless Upward’ suggest a calling has come after years in the shadow of the charismatic Maines.
Group guitarist Martin Strayer teamed up with Martie to co-write the solitary track which she takes lead vocal on ‘A Guy Like You’, a more mellow offering laced with the sound of Emily’s Dobro. ‘Rock All Night’ ,a strong candidate for stand out track, steps up the momentum with enhanced fiddle and some fine organ work driving it along in a soulful manner. Follow on track ‘Phoebe’ is a song with a strong message that with the aid of banjo and frantic fiddle picks up its pace midway through to hurtle to a satisfying toe tapping conclusion.
‘Divided’ is a little bit of a bridging song between this pair of upbeat numbers and the delightful ballad ‘Gets You Down’ which with a gentle injection of pedal steel creates an atmosphere of serenity amidst a slightly sombre message. The pace contrast carries through to the conclusion of the album where ‘Watch Your Step’ paves the way for the carefully selected and parting message of closer ‘The Road You Take’, perhaps an overriding summary of the personal and musical decisions made over the last few years.
With the Dixie Chicks legacy intact, the path is clear for both Natalie Maines and the Court Yard Hounds to make their independent mark. The world of country and wider Americana music is the richer for their creative presence and AMELITA is an excellent record to further the careers of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.