Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis Honestly Tell a 'Beautiful Lie'
Americana duo Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis capture the sound of classic country music from the past and make it part of the here and now on Beautiful Lie.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis
21 June 2019
It would be a lie not to call the new album from the husband and wife team from Texas, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, beautiful. Their fourth record of duets is a gorgeous thing to hear. The duo marvelously sing and play together on their latest release, Beautiful Lie. They turn every one of the ten songs into a reason for celebration. That doesn't mean each track is happy. Many of the main characters are unhappy due to their past own actions and behaviors. It's just that each cut features stellar deliveries and top-notch production.
Robison produced the album himself at his studio in Lockhart, Texas, "with no digital shenanigans", as he put it in the liner notes. The recordings were taped on analog equipment. The music glows with the old-fashioned sound of classic country music from the past. When Robison and Willis cover Ernest Tubb's hit "One Dime at a Time" about a sad sack at the bar telling his miserable life story to a stranger, you could almost forget that you can't hear ten songs for a buck anymore. And the four new original contributions by Robison (including one co-written with Jack Ingram) offer the same pleasures, as do the three by Grammy nominee Adam Wright (including one co-written by his wife Shannon), and the three other covers.
Willis' vocals transform David Ball's sad ode "Lost My Best" from a masculine tear in my beer weeper into a Kitty Wells' style dignified confessional lament. The title cut comes from the Amazing Rhythm Aces' 1975 debut album. Willis and Robison harmonize together on lyrics that coyly suggest their relationship may be a lie but pretending may be enough to keep them together. It's a precious conceit that works because of the faux sincerity him and her both express; hence, a "Beautiful Lie".
Adam and Shannon's "Can't Tell Nobody Nothin'" is the most dynamic piece with an insistent rhythm and lyrics about the lure of lust and the criminal life. It's where the backup band of Geoff Queen (pedal steel, mandolin, electric guitar); Trevor Nealon (keyboards); Scott Davis (electric guitar, piano, banjo); John Michael Schoepf (bass); Joshua Blue (drums, percussion); Rich Brotherton (vocals); and Brian Standefer (cello), stand out the most, although they skillfully offer radiant moments on every track. There's not a bad note, nor an extra one, to be found on the record. Wright's other two compositions, "Nobody's Perfect" and "If I Ever Had a Rose", also offer the band a place to shine—especially Queen's tearful pedal steel and Blue's right on the nose drumming.
However, this is Robison's project as co-lead and producer. His originals provide the record's most sophisticated moments and share a theme about the wisdom of age. The co-write with Ingram, "Astrodome", notes how the promise of youth so quickly turns into faded memories. "Coming Down" tells of how a hot love mellowed with time into something better and more pure, like wine. "Brand New Me" jauntily suggests how everything old becomes new again. Robison and Willis sing the lyrics on every song in a deceptively simple style that's conversational on one level but ripples with mixed emotions underneath. They can independently express more than one feeling at a time and weave their voices together to reveal what happens when one and one equal more than two.
Beautiful Lie successfully captures the sound of the past, but as Robison demonstrates on his self-penned tunes, the past is more than a memory. It is part of who one is in the here and now. We learn from our experiences. Life may not be perfect, but it's all that we have and deserves to be treasured.
- Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis: Our Year - PopMatters ›
- Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison: Cheater's Game - PopMatters ›
- Kelly Willis: Easy - PopMatters ›
- Kelly Willis: Translated From Love - PopMatters ›
- Kelly Willis: Back Being Blue (album review) - PopMatters ›
- Kelly Willis Teaches Herself a Lesson on 'Back Being Blue ... ›