Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kelly Willis And Bruce Robison: “Our Year” (2014) CD Review

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison both have had successful careers as solo artists and songwriters. Bruce’s material has been performed by the Dixie Chicks, George Strait and Tim McGraw (who all scored #1 country hits with his songs). Kelly Willis had a role and performed in the film Bob Roberts. She also had a song in the film Thelma And Louise, and recorded with Jay Farrar. The two teamed up in marriage nearly a decade ago, but apart from a holiday record did not put out an album together until last year (Cheater’s Game). Their new album together, Our Year, is an excellent album of folk and country. The songs are mostly covers, including tracks by T. Bone Burnett and The Statler Brothers. They alternate lead vocals duties, but of course harmonize so well together.

Our Year opens with “Departing Louisiana,” a song written by Robyn Ludwick, Bruce Robison’s younger sister. Bruce Robison sings lead on this sweet, delightful tune, which features Eamon McLoughlin on mandolin. The opening lines are: “Departing Louisiana/There ain’t nothing here for me/But my old man, he don’t see it quite like me.” As I mentioned, Bruce and Kelly’s voices blend beautifully, particularly on the line “Sleep don’t come in Louisiana.” For some reason, even just the way they sing that one line brings me a smile to my face. There are also nice touches on harmonica. (Robyn Ludwick’s original version can be found on her 2005 release, For So Long.)

Harmonica kicks off “Motor City Man,” a groovy, fun country tune, which Kelly Willis sings lead on. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Now high school plan, be a Motor City man/Working night or day/’Cause no matter who you are, you got to have a car/In the USA.” Yes, it’s a good song to be listening to while on the road. This one was written by Walter Hyatt.


“Carousel” is a wonderful, mellow tune whose rhythm feels like an old horse slowly trotting across the plains, which is such an interesting feel, considering the song’s title. It’s like a carousel that’s about to be retired – it still moves steadily, only more slowly than it once did.  Comes a time when music has to stop/It’s the end of the ride/You step off the carousel/And say goodbye.” And the carousel metaphor for the world itself gives a delightfully sad image of the world, of life, of relationships. “The world just goes around and round and round/It’s such a crazy game/But people love a carousel/And no one is to blame.” Nice, eh? Bruce sings lead on this one, and co-wrote this song with Darden Smith. There is also some really nice work by Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle.

Kelly sings lead on “Lonely For You,” which is more of an upbeat country rock tune. This is a fun song, with some nice work on harmonica and fiddle. In this song she tells the guy to ignore any rumors about her, that she’s only lonely for him. It has an interesting ending, becoming mellow, even thoughtful, as it fades out. Kelly co-wrote this one with Paul Kennerley.

T Bone Burnett

Bruce and Kelly do a wonderful rendition of T Bone Burnett’s “Shake Yourself Loose.” On this one, they each sing lead vocals on a verse, Kelly taking the first verse. Kelly turns in a particularly excellent vocal performance on this track. There is also some nice work on steel guitar by Geoff Queen. T Bone Burnett’s original version can be found on his 1986 self-titled album.

"Harper Valley PTA"

“Harper Valley PTA” might seem like an odd choice of covers, though I suppose hypocrisy has never really gone away, even if the PTA has. (Does the PTA still exist? I don’t actually know.) Anyway, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis do a really good job with it. As you might guess, Kelly sings lead. By the way, if you’ve never seen the film that was based on the song, consider yourself lucky.

One of my favorite tracks is “Anywhere But Here,” a song that Bruce co-wrote with Monte Warden. This is kind of a beautiful tune, with some wonderful work on fiddle. “Any life that was worth living/Any moment without fear/It’s getting harder to remember anywhere but here.”

The Zombies

Our Year concludes with the title track, “This Will Be Our Year.” This is an absolutely gorgeous and moving rendition of the Zombies song. Their voices sound perfect together, full of love and hope. “This will be our year/Took a long time to come.” Oh yes, I love this song.

CD Track List

  1. Departing Louisiana
  2. Motor City Man
  3. Carousel
  4. Lonely For You
  5. Hangin’ On
  6. Shake Yourself Loose
  7. Harper Valley PTA
  8. Anywhere But Here
  9. I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You
  10. This Will Be Our Year

 Our Year is scheduled to be released on May 27, 2014 through Thirty Tigers and Premium Records.

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