|Court Yard HoundsStrictly speaking, it's only a few feet from stage left or stage right to the center spotlight. But it took Martie Maguire and Emily Robison a couple of decades to move those couple of yards. As the mainstays of the Dixie Chicks since they formed the group in 1989, the sisters have been familiar faces to many millions of fans, yet just a little mysterious in that familiarity, content as they were to cede the lead vocalist position and remain music's most recognizable "sidewomen." Chicks fans couldn't help but hear those ever-present harmonies and wonder if Emily and Martie might ever come out from hiding in plain sight.That's just what they've done in their newly hatched incarnation as Court Yard Hounds, with a gorgeously assured debut album that has the siblings sounding like they've been fearless frontwomen all their lives. Is this band a side project? They can live with that label. Or something permanent? Yes, that, too.Robison and Maguire could no sooner take an indefinite vacation from music than they could from being related. So as the mother band's hiatus grew into a longer vacation than anyone originally anticipated, "dormant" began to equal "torment" for these two working musicians. The Dixie Chicks were last seen triumphing at the Grammys in early 2007, winning the exceedingly rare trifecta of album, record, and song of the year for Taking the Long Way and its flagship single "Not Ready to Make Nice." Something else they weren't ready to do was make records or tour again, at least for a long while, as it turned out. All three Chicks enjoyed family time away from the media glare-but after a while Maguire and Robison felt refreshed and rarin' to go, which still left them one singer short of a quorum. The usually bold Maines' reticence to put herself through the grind again had the effect of pushing her slightly shyer bandmates out of the nest.When fans see Maguire and Robison from now on, whether they're at side or center stage, it'll be with a greater sense of the individual personalities of the sisters who've seemed ubiquitous, yet just a little elusive for so many years. Their easy smiles and rapport with fans from the front rows to the rafters have gotten them pegged as "the friendly ones," but the material on Court Yard Hounds proves them as complex as they are approachable.And not only was it worth the wait, this flowering simply had to wait. "I don't think I could have done this five or ten years ago with Martie," Emily affirms. "I would have been too timid, too shy, too 'Oh no, I can't do that.' Now, I think, if some people don't like it, that's fine." No lap dogs here: Court Yard Hounds are ready to get out and work it. "Even if we have just 10 percent of the people who reacted to us before, or only new fans, whatever it is?we can make something of that."