Court Yard Hounds @ Chicago

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By Dave Miller

The Court Yard Hounds opened for Loretta Lynn with a set that was worthy of headling. The band is the side project of sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire as they wait for Natalie Maines to want to play with them again in the Dixie Chicks. While Maines is the magnetic front woman of the Chicks, Robison and Maguire showed they can step forward to front their own band.

Robison played electric guitar, steel guitar and banjo, while Maguire played fiddle and mandolin. Robison is the lead singer, but Maguire handles a chunk of the vocals, too. They harmonize beautifully. Five musicians accompanied them. While Robison and Maguire don’t have a star presence like Maines does, the sisters do project a subtle strength that increases over time thanks to their musical command. And they’re unassuming nature makes them likeable and relatable.

The first four songs breezily floated across the pavilion, seemingly as part of the lakefront as Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain on the warm summer night. The next song, “See You in the Spring,” was a well-intentioned homage to the city, but it seemed out of place thanks to lyrics of “cold Chicago nights” and “chains on the tires.” It was one of six songs played from the Hounds’ self-titled, debut album that was released last year. Robison acknowledged the summer weather. “I thought it was going to be cooler than it is, but I’m sweating,” she said after asking for a towel. “Being from Texas I’m used to it being hot, but not this humid.”

Maguire self-effacingly joked that whenever the band tries to rock out, its nerdy side breaks into bluegrass. The Hounds sounded good whatever they played, but indeed were at their best when they played in bluegrass mode with Maguire's fiddle collaborating with Robison’s banjo and the band's mandolin and pedal steel. Their mountain side of their sound frames their clear harmonies the best, too. “Caged Bird,” one of a handful of new songs played, was a stellar example of that.

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That said, “Rock All Night,” sung by Robison and pumped up by an organ, bounced like a good Sheryl Crow tune. That smartly followed the Maguire-sung “A Guy Like You,” which featured a seductive groove so slow that it threatened to stop. The Hounds broke their rule of not breaking out any Dixie Chicks songs out of respect to Maines, playing a crowd-pleasing “Lil’ Jack Slade” in which they substituted Maines’ vocals with Robison’s burning banjo. “Ain’t No Son” showcased the vocals of Robison and Maguire on top of an organ before a rousing finish, but not before Macguire paid respect to Lynn. “It’s a pleasure to be playing with a legend,” she said. “She influenced so much of our music…See you down the road. Thank you so much.” I’m sure many of their fans hope the next time that Robison and Maguire come to town it will be as part of the Dixie Chicks, but it would be just fine with at least one listener if it as the Hounds.

The setlist:

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Delight (Something New Under the Sun)

It Didn’t Make a Sound

Phoebe

Then Again

See You in the Spring

Happy Days

Caged Bird

A Guy Like You

Rock All Night

The Coast

Lil’ Jack Slade

Ain’t No Son

 

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