Kelly Willis Easy Review

Album. Released 20 August 2002.  

BBC Review

Nashville has a way of chewing up talent and spitting it out and sometimes we have to...

Chris Jones 2002

Describing the process of recording her follow-up to the lauded What I Deserve Ms W says: "I tried to have fun, put together songs I liked and not worry about how it was going to be received. Just do it and enjoy it". In other words, it was in every sense Easy. And that's just what this album is. A relaxed yet invigorating trip to Texas in some very good company indeed.

Singing professionally since she was 16; discovered by Nanci Griffith; marketed by major labels MCA and A&M as a glamorous country diva; working with names as stellar as Don Was, Bernie Leadon, Marshall Crenshaw and Benmont Tench; by 1997 Willis seemed to be headed for mainstream acceptance. Yet by 1999 she was working with Son Volt, in a new marriage to fellow Austin resident Bruce Robison (whose gorgeously floaty "What Did You Think" graces this collection) and putting a career on hold for the simple joys of family life away from the bright lights.

This has proven to be a wise course of action. Her first album for Ryko - the aforementioned What I Deserve was easily her most successful and Easy proves that Kelly still commands the utmost respect in Nashville and further afield. The list of musicians reads like a who's who of what's hot and happening in country right now. Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Lloyd Maines (producer of the Dixie Chicks and top pedal steel man) and co-producer Gary Paczosa (Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Alan Jackson etc. etc.) are joined by people of the calibre of Faces' keyboardist Ian McLagen and the supremely gifted ex-Green On Red guitarist Chuck Prophet. This (apart from the regulationcutesy summer dress cover-shot which makes one worry that, perhaps, she needs to chow down a tad more grits 'n' gravy) all backs up Willis' contention that she sees herself as more than just a country belle.

The material also bears out this theory, mixing the jaunty honky tonk of "If I Left You" and maudlin-by-numbers Marcia Ball song "Find Another Fool" with more leftfield choices such as her respectfully precise rendition of Kirsty MacColl's "Don't Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!" included here as a memorial to the sadly-missed English songwriter. However top marks have to go to the closer "Reason To Believe". Written for her new son Deral, it balances the fine line between trite and tender (as all great country does) by drifting along with a sublime melody and drawing on her native state's proximity to the lazy sounds of Mexico.

At less than 40 minutes this CD may be short but manages to pack an awful lot of heartfelt feeling into its 10 songs. Nashville has a way of chewing up talent and spitting it out and sometimes we have to be grateful that it does. Not everyone was meant to wear those rhinestones and America has more than enough space to accommodate people who want to play country by rules other than those dictated by music city. Kelly Willis, thank goodness, has been around long enough to know by now what really matters and this album distills the essence perfectly.

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