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Kelly Willis

What I Deserve

(Rykodisc)

As one of Austin’s finest singer-songwriters, it’s regrettable that Kelly Willis spent the earlier part of her career as a minor cog in the Nashville hit machine. While her debut Well Traveled Love possessed some great rockabilly twang ala The Wagoneers and a stomping version of John Hiatt’s “Drive South,” her last couple of albums sweated under the weight of playing by half-hearted studio musicians and oh-so-slick arrangements.


Happily, Willis is now free of her old record deal and in fine form on her Rykodisc debut. As if heavily sighing with the relief of her liberation, this set of new songs breathes with vitality and introspection. Willis has deceptively simple and unadorned songwriting style that ideally suits her sweet, rootsy singing. I just wish she’d cut loose a bit more on these performances, as she does in concert. A bit less reserve and some of her genetic rockabilly fire would have lifted this album heads and tails above most of her alt-country brethren.

Rating:

Sarah Zupko founded PopMatters, one of the largest independent cultural criticism magazines on the web, back in the Internet's early days of 1999. Zupko is a former Executive Producer for Tribune Media Services, the media syndication arm of the Tribune Company, and a 10-year veteran of Tribune. Her other pursuits involve writing historical fiction and research in the fields of Slavic and German history, as well as general European cultural and intellectual history. Zupko studied musicology, film, and drama at the University of Chicago and media theory at the University of Texas, where she received her M.A.


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