Oh joy!…. the glorious return of Kelly Willis
At long last, after more than 5 years, we have a new album featuring the sensational vocals of Kelly Willis, one of THE great female country singers. A shame that she has always been something of a maverick, otherwise she would be selling millions of copies of her albums.
And here, at last, is a long rumoured duet album with her husband of 15 years, the award-winning songwriter Bruce Robison. The only other collaboration between the two is a Christmas album from a few years back.
On this album they are an updated Conway and Loretta or perhaps the US equivalent of Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson. Kelly’s voice soars in and out of the mix on seven Bruce Robison originals and a smart collection of covers by artists as diverse as Robert Earl keen (his early ‘No Kinda Dancer’), Hayes Carll’s ‘Long Way Home’, not to mention a scintillating Tex-Mex version of The Blasters’ ‘Border Radio’
Cheater’s Game was made with contributions from fans and friends but it enabled them to surround themselves with an excellent group of musicians, with occasional star turns by Al Perkins and Fats Kaplan, who without exception lend these songs of love and loss and cheating the perfect setting to exploit their beautiful harmonies. Listen (intently) to the fiddle, mando and cello work of Brit Eamon McLaughlin (who played with The Greencards and Josh Turner) or the stunning steel guitar work of Pete Finney (Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless).
There are occasional instrumental surprises (the tuba on ‘Leavin’, the brilliant road vibe on Lawrence Shoberg’s ‘Born to Roll’, the uncredited harmonica on Hayes Carll’s ‘Long Way Home’, but for the most part the instrumentation is standard country fare with wailing steel, sizzling fiddle, solid rhythm section, all produced by Brad Jones to showcase the vocal brilliance of, particularly, Kelly Willis, and the superb harmonies of both of them.
Already a contender for album of the year and it is not even officially released until February. Those of us lucky enough to obtain a pre-release copy can bask in this glorious effort for an extra month.