The Court Yard Hounds' second album, 'Amelita,' is a peek at the diary pages of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison. The 11 songs are tremendously personal, and while they're laden with tragically beautiful lyrics, many are difficult to access.

The two longtime Dixie Chicks bandmates co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs, and Robison handles most of the singing. Dark clouds dominate the project, although there are a few moments of optimism and sunshine. 'Sunshine' is not one of these moments, even though the sarcastic nature of the story against the peppy production makes it a joy to listen to on repeat.

"Could it be you wear your fur on the inside / Prefer not to go outside where the sky's way too blue," Robinson sings on the album opener. 'Amelita' is full of lyrical gems like this. On 'Aimless Upward,' she sings "Part of me is a climbing vine / A ball of nerves like a ball of twine," before the song's refrain: "We are seeds with promises to keep." A mournful arrangement once again contrasts the lyrics, which are an expression of independence.

The album is more a songwriting and singing showcase than a stage for the talented musicians to bust loose. The production lets them down. Rarely does a riff or guitar line pull one into the song before the first notes. Only once do the women really get a chance to jam. 'Phoebe' is a swampy rocker about a suicide that includes a minute-long extended solo section. They blow the roof off here for the first time on the album.

Most songs are much more subdued, although the frequent contrast in message and arrangement is compelling. Immediately following 'Phoebe' comes 'Divided,' the song that comes closest to sounding like Robison's divorce story (songwriter Martin Strayer helped the women pen this track). While she's not a dynamic vocalist, she shines here. There's palpable pain and regret as she sings about wishing her man would ask her to stay.

Other highlights include the title track and 'Guys Like You,' Maguire's vocal showcase. It's another sharply-penned song (this time about a steamy lover) that opens itself up for everyone to enjoy. So many others feel like "you had to be there" tributes that don't quite become realized. After awhile, there's a sameness in delivery that causes one to miss the finer particulars on 'Amelita.'

3.5 Stars