You could understand if Emily Robison and Martie Maguire sound a bit stressed on their second album as Court Yard Hounds.
When this Texas-based sister duo released its self-titled debut in 2010, it was a low-key side project, a way to keep busy until Natalie Maines -- Robison and Maguire's bandmate in the Dixie Chicks -- felt ready to return to that platinum-selling country group.
Three years later, though, it's unclear if the Dixie Chicks will make new music again; Maines put out a rock-flavored solo disc in May, one she said in interviews is much more representative of her creative interests.
Now a hobby has become the sisters' occupation.
Yet rather than weighing down Court Yard Hounds, that rearrangement of priorities appears to have put some spring in their step. "Amelita" might be the most buoyant album of 2013, a lighter-than-air set of summery folk-pop tunes with titles like "Sunshine" and "The World Smiles."
"I'm through with singing the blues," Robison insists over a delicate banjo lick in the latter song, and much of the rest of "Amelita" bears out her claim, be it the propulsive Tex-Mex shuffle of the title track or the richly harmonized "A Guy Like You," in which Robison describes her idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon: "I'd be sipping on a gin and tonic / In an oxford with your scent on it."
Several other cuts ooze the beery good vibes of "Soak Up the Sun"-era Sheryl Crow.
Things darken ever so slightly in "Aimless Upward," where Robison compares herself to "a ball of nerves like a ball of twine," and "Divided," which seems to track the disintegration of a marriage under the pressure of show business. (In 2008, Robison divorced country singer Charlie Robison.)
But even that one ends on a hopeful note, as though Court Yard Hounds were willing success into being. "When the sun comes up," Robison sings, "I wanna be there when you wake."
Court Yard Hounds