ND First Spin: Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - 'Cheaters Game'

By Kim Ruehl

For years at Christmas, the music-loving crowds in Austin, Tex., have been lapping up the delicious harmonies and sweet, natural musicality which seems to magically happen when Kelly Willis and her husband Bruce Robison take the stage together. Eventually, it was bound to happen that the couple would become as beloved in their duo work as they have with their solo efforts.

Then, in 2008, Willis announced she was going to take some time off from the road. She’s made a handful of appearances since then but, understandably, a considerable swirl of interest has been blowing around the couple’s first full-on studio effort. Even as Willis and Robison have contributed to each other’s recordings through the years, their first foray into full-fledged duo album-making comes Feb. 12 with the release of Cheaters Game.

With songs by folks like Dave Alvin, Robert Earl Keen, Hayes Carll, and more, this is a disc of not only delicious Kelly-and-Bruce harmonies; it’s a testament to the glorious array of the Americana community. Then, of course, there are the originals – teeming with as much cowboy energy as they are rough-and-tumble rockabilly roots. As you can hear below, it is a stirring, catchy, musical, remarkable recording.

From a press release:

“For all their differences musically—Willlis explains, ‘I’m more rockabilly/60s, and he’s got that ‘70s Texas songwriter thing’—they’re both artists deeply rooted in the hard country, yet deeply progressive music scene that’s Texas post-Bob Wills. A place long on big emotions, serious Saturday nights, long necks, roadhouses, big hair, roughnecks and tender hearted women, Texas’ Robison and Willis bridge the gaps and build a refuge for the Venus/Mars continuum that is men and women high on hormones and short on guilt, not to mention the craggy aftermath of same.

“They also follow in the tradition of couples making kinetic music of all stripes. Not just Johnny and June and Tammy and George, Waylon and Jesse or even Conway and Loretta, but also X’s roots-steeped punks John Doe and Exene Cervenka. That merging of songs and life, knowing and dreaming adds depth and frenzy to the music.”

Now, without further ado, the full stream of ‘Cheaters Game’. Be sure to give it a few spins, then tell us what you think.

We’ll pick two lucky commenters from the thread and send them a copy of the album on high-quality vinyl. To enter, just scroll to the bottom of this page and leave a comment in the comment box, telling us what your favorite song on this record is, and why.

The contest will close next Monday, Feb 11, 2013 at 11:59 p.m PST. Anyone is welcome to enter but the prize must be shipped to a US address.

Good luck!  

Views: 3796

Comment by David Mahler on February 5, 2013 at 6:58am

So happy to see these two finally have a release together.  I've been a Kelly Willis fan since her first release, Bang Bang and remember seeing her at the Great American Music Hall around 1992 or 3 with only about 40 others in the crowd.  Her voice still knocks me out!!!

Comment by David Haskin on February 5, 2013 at 7:08am

Oh. My. God.  I was beginning to think that all alt-country/whatever releases were starting to sound eerily similar, but this one is some very, very special. It's truly wonderful. And it reminds me just how much I've missed Kelly Willis' musicality. So many duet albums seem forced, somehow, but this one sounds so organic that I'd shy away from even calling it a duet album.

I don't have a turntable, so I'll pass on entering the contest, but my vote is for Long Way Home.  A classically sad/lovely country song featuring that voice.

Comment by Janice Brooks on February 5, 2013 at 7:22am

Only 2 tracks heard so far but thumbs up. Hope I can find a promo somewhere 

Comment by Amos Perrine on February 5, 2013 at 7:47am

Many thanks for the post. On of my fav music quotes is by Ms. Willis. Some years back when they appeared together at MerleFest she said a few things about her well-known songwriter husband.  One of them was, "Behind every successful songwriter is a stunned mother-in-law."

Comment by Shawn Z on February 5, 2013 at 8:02am

great to hear Kelly and Bruce together, again.

the songwriting and vocals alone are worth everyone's attention.  as they grab you from the first line.

this is a record not to be missed out on!   if you're a fan of Americana, you should already have this release on your wish-list!

Comment by Dean on February 5, 2013 at 8:34am

What a great record! I think "Dreamin'" is my favorite song. Kelly and Bruce's voices work so well together on it. And I love the steel guitar and fiddle. Just a great song.

Comment by Michael on February 5, 2013 at 9:00am

What a great record! Hard to pick one, but I'm gonna go with Ordinary Fool.

Comment by Dan Carlsen on February 5, 2013 at 9:03am

As an alt-country fan I have a soft spot in my heart for female/male duets and these two's voices really work together. Great songwriting, vocals and production. Hard to pick but "Border Radio" appeals to my rocky side - nice groove!

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on February 5, 2013 at 9:23am

I'm not entering the contest, but have to say that I can already tell this is going to be a contender for my top 10 albums of the year! Love it!

Comment by Karis on February 5, 2013 at 9:32am

This new version of "Born to Roll" is amazing, I love the old one but this brings a whole new feel to it and the harmonies are amazing.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.