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Dixie Chicks Duo Unleash the Hounds

Emily Robison, Martie Maguire form new band, prep for Chicks tour

rsiwebadmin Jun 10, 2010
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Jason Lavers/Filmmagic

Country fans know Emily Robison and Martie Maguire as “the quiet one” and “the smiley one” from the Dixie Chicks. The sisters always took a back seat to outspoken frontwoman Natalie Maines ”“ who famously confessed on the eve of the Iraq War that she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” With their new folk-rock project, Court Yard Hounds, the sidewomen are stepping into the spotlight. “Emily’s always been happy to be in the background,” says Maguire, 40. “But her singing and songwriting are bold.” She turns toward her younger sister: “I didn’t know you had that side of you!”

Recorded mostly in their hometown of Austin, Court Yard Hounds has a rootsy, introspective sound reminiscent of alt-country acts like the Jayhawks and Lucinda Williams. “The early Dixie Chicks albums have a gee-wow country thing,” says Jim Scott, who co-produced Court Yard Hounds and has also worked with the Chicks, Wilco and Tom Petty. “But this is not a cutesy record. There’s a lot of serious songwriting and emotional vulnerability.”

Robison wrote most of the material in the wake of her divorce from singer-songwriter Charlie Robison, including ”˜It Didn’t Make a Sound,’ which hints at one reason why marriages don’t work out: Sometimes people cheat. “I’ve gotten to an age,” Robison, 37, says, “where I just don’t care about what people think.”

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Other cuts are more political, like ”˜Ain’t No Son,’ a surging, fiddle-fuelled cut about a gay son coming out to his conservative father. “Having kids myself, I can’t imagine them doing anything that would make me not love them,” she says. Maguire adds, “Moms with serial-killer sons still love them!”

The tunes were originally meant for the Dixie Chicks ”“ who haven’t released a record since 2006’s Taking the Long Way ”“ but Maines wasn’t quite ready to go back to work. “She was under the microscope [after the Bush comment], and it wasn’t a fun place to be,” Maguire explains. “We all felt the same way [about Bush], but Natalie got all the criticism because she’s a big personality.”

After the Court Yard Hounds album was finished, Maines decided to come out of her semi-retirement for an opening slot on the Eagles’ stadium tour this summer. “You don’t turn that down,” Maguire says. The Court Yard Hounds will work in their own shows around the Chicks’ schedule. “We’re trying to play festivals so that there isn’t the pressure of selling tickets,” says Maguire. “When we get enough music out there, we’ll do our own tour.”

The Hounds are realistic about the commercial potential of the project ”“ especially compared to the multiplatinum Dixie Chicks. “From the start, our manager has been like, ”˜You know you’re going back to these sweaty clubs with no AC? Are you sure you’re ready for this?’” says Maguire. “But we honed our skills in those clubs. We’re prepared.”

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