Sometimes even the best albums can slip through the cracks.
The Court Yard Hounds’ latest CD, “Amelita,” came out back in July, but somehow got lost in the shuffle. It ranks as the greatest overlooked album of the year and, so, deserves mention before 2013 passes us by.
The Hounds owes their life to the temporary fracturing of the Dixie Chicks, which began three years ago. Two of the three Chicks — Emily Robison and Martie Maguire — comprise the Hounds. The Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, has busied herself with her own excellent album, “Mother,” issued back in May.
The Hounds released their self-titled debut three years ago. It countered the mother band’s full-figured country-pop with something far more lean. Robison and Maguire may possess formidable fiddle and banjo skills, but their own album sounded less like the rollicking Ricky Scaggs and more like the spare Shawn Colvin.
The duo’s latest effort, “Amelita,” mirrors the debut by taking a folkie’s approach to country. It stresses finely-picked acoustic guitars, echoed by the lightest fiddle and mandolin responses. It also mimics the debut by pushing Robison to the fore. Her caring voice takes the lead on most every track. (The two co-wrote most of the songs).
The new disc differs significantly from the first in one way — point of view. The Hounds’ debut centered on songs that reacted to Robison’s divorce. “Amelita” stresses character portraits. Typical is the sarcastic single “Sunshine,” about a Debbie Downer of a friend, or the title track, a tough-minded buck-up song to a comrade. There’s also “Phoebe,” which addresses a bullied girl who commits suicide as a misguided act of revenge against those who hurt her. The few personal songs included view depression as an indulgence the women could do without.
Despite the harder point of view, the songs have a delicacy and an unerring beauty. It’s as catchy as the Chicks’ best but with a fresh intimacy. Those who long for the main group to reunite will be rewarded one day, the women have vowed. In the meantime, they’ve given us parts that add up to even more than the whole.