Court Yard Hounds, "Amelita" (Columbia)
The Court Yard Hounds open their second album, "Amelita," with a portrait of a friend who wallows in negativity. But the arrangement and lyrics of "Sunshine" express how this sisterly duo isn't going to let their downer friend dampen their day.
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The breezy, buoyantly melodic song is a perfect introduction to a collection of songs that find two members of the Dixie Chicks expressing joy in music once again -- a drastic shift from their self-titled first album and from the dark musings found on the recent solo debut of their longtime singing partner, Natalie Maines.
Sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire keep on the sunny side for most of "Amelita," concocting a distinct acoustic blend rife with life-affirming energy and clever, engaging lyrics to match. Robison sounds more confident as a lead vocalist. And the writing of the two sisters, sometimes with guitarist Martin Strayer, Robison's recently wed husband, takes on a shine reminiscent of the blissful elation of early Chicks hits such as "Wide Open Spaces."
They occasionally bring rock swagger to their acoustic sound, as in the wonderful "Rock All Night," about the excitement of the moments leading up to attending an eagerly anticipated concert. Similarly, the aggressive, multilayered "Phoebe" features a fiery arrangement highlighted by a wicked fiddle solo by Maguire.
In the song "The World Smiles," the sisters say they are determined to put the blues behind them. "Amelita" implies that, musically at least, these former country stars have a spring back in their step -- and their infectious way of conveying it will lighten the souls, and soles, of listeners, too.