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.