PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis Honestly Tell a 'Beautiful Lie'

Photo: McGuckin PR

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.

Beautiful Please
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis

Next Waltz

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.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.