The elements of a Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison album have grown familiar (even familial) by now: a rich marital-turned-musical chemistry, a mix of inspired originals and intriguing covers, a wealth of talented session players, all packaged together from a Texan perspective. The newest album from Willis and Robison, Beautiful Lie, does nothing to deviate from courses previously charted.
While Willis and Robison were wed in 1996, it took 10 years to marry their musical talents on a holiday album in 2006. Thirteen years later, the pair have served up a quartet of acclaimed releases, including this new 10-song set. The mix here includes a handful of Robison-penned songs, a few covers, and still other songs from songwriter Adam Wright, who has also written for Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, and Lee Ann Womack.
Beautiful Lie takes its title from their cover of a tune by the Amazing Rhythm Aces, a ’70s country-rock band best known for singles like “Third Rate Romance” and “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song).” The classic country cocoon around the vulnerable vocal confessions (“Nobody won, we both lost / No one’s to blame”) make this feel as personal as anything self-penned on the album.
These duets albums serve a secondary purpose as a journey through country’s lost gems (see the titular track), and “Lost My Best” is another great example. The beautiful ballad is Willis’ take on a previously unreleased track from Uncle Walt’s Band, an influential Austin-based country trio that somehow never broke through nationally. Ernest Tubbs’ “One Dime at a Time” also provides some straightforward fun early on.
The playful and propulsive “Can’t Tell Nobody Nothin’” reveals the other side of Robison and Willis’ studio magic, the ideal kickstart to the album’s second half. “Astrodome,” a song cut with Jack Ingram, waxes nostalgic about the former eighth wonder of the world. It’s a new angle on the “good old days,” a sign that Robison might have a heart for classic country but he’s not averse to new steps forward.
Beautiful Lie is part textbook and part songbook. It tips more than a hat to tradition while it adds plenty more to the catalog. These offerings from Willis and Robison are worthy of your attention for myriad reasons, and Beautiful Lie is no exception.