Court Yard Hounds @ Austin

Martie Maguire
Emily Strayer
Natalie Maines
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ACL Fest review: Court Yard Hounds

Their “day job” as founders of the Dixie Chicks did not demand that either step to center stage full time and, as a result, the inaugural shows of the Court Yard Hounds had a slight whiff of “work-in-progress.”

But time has gone by and, as the Dixie Chicks begin to recede further from the pop culture consciousness, the Court Yard Hounds have evolved from a curiosity into a living, breathing, stand-alone musical entity.

Moreover, their set on Saturday at the Austin Ventures Stage was a red-blooded, full-throated, arena-ready performance—fully committed and almost scarily assured.

The sisters have always been virtuoso instrumentalists, of course, but they seemed to have settled easily into their headliner roles; Emily handling most of the vocals and the stinging banjo and resonator guitar lines, and Martie leavening the mix with sweetness, icing the arrangements with fiddle and mandolin and joking onstage with easy brio.

Most of their set was drawn from their one and only album with a smattering of new songs woven in. The band hit the ground running with “Delight” and popped the clutch straight away into “It Didn’t Make A Sound,” one of Emily’s thank-God-and-Greyhound-you’re-gone songs, propelled by her banjo and Bukka Allen’s honky-tonk piano.

They debuted some new material, including “Phoebe,” which Emily described as Martie’s “happy suicide ballad” and another, “Rock All Night,” which likened love to a midway ride at the Texas State Fair.

But for all the musical fireworks, the most memorable moment had to be when Martie escorted her three young daughters out onstage to shake maracas with mom and Aunt Emily on the lilting “The Coast.” It was precisely, exactly as cute as the dickens.

Then it was back to business, with a bluegrass breakdown and a concluding rave-up of the caustic rocker “Ain’t No Son.”

There’s no way for this observer to know if Maguire and Robison want to revisit the amphetamine-like craziness that was the Dixie Chicks at their platinum-selling peak. But if they do, they have the music to take them there.

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