Wonder Women of Country 2024
Photo: Lyza Renee 2024

Willis, Carper, and Leigh Are the ‘Wonder Women of Country’

Americana/country singer-songwriters Kelly Willis, Melissa Carper, and Brennen Leigh team up for the Wonder Women of Country and release their first EP.

Wonder Women of Country: Willis, Carper, Leigh
Wonder Women of Country
Brooklyn Basement
15 March 2024

Kelly Willis, Melissa Carper, and Brennen Leigh all share an essential superpower. What exactly that is remains unclear. Wonder Women of Country’s press notes indicated it had something to do with shopping in thrift stores, but I doubt that to be true. Anyone with any sense knows you have to find good fishing holes and then continually haunt them for occasional hauls. These women can sing country music; hence, their album title. Despite their boast, which was meant somewhat sarcastically, they are just pretty good. That’s just fine.

This light touch of humor adds to Willis, Carper, and Leigh’s appeal. The three women have been playing together for a couple of years. They decided to put out a six-song EP that showed how well-integrated they were as a trio as well as their individual talents. That’s two songs each, including a couple of co-writes, covers, and original songs.

Willis is the best-known of the Wonder Women of Country. Her past success as a solo artist and with her ex-husband Bruce Robison makes her a familiar name in Americana circles and the Austin scene. (This EP was recorded at Bismeaux on the Hill in Austin.) She has a pleasing way with the vocals as she pleads for a greater display of commitment on “A Thousand Ways”, a catchy song, but her fellow country women singers mainly do backup duty. The accordion player, Ginny Mac, steals the session through her danceable squeezing.

Willis said she heard Monte Warden and Bruce Robison start to write “Another Broken Heart”, and she became so enamored of the verse she wrote a bridge and a chorus for it. It’s a weeper, but as with Willis’ other contribution the song sounds more like her with a harmony group more than a threesome of equals.

Leigh is a well-respected songwriter and guitarist who has been covered by luminaries such as Lee Ann Womack, Rodney Crowell, Sunny Sweeney, Charley Crockett, and others. She wrote “Fly Ya to Hawaii” with Carper, and it is as corny as the song’s title. “Hanging on to You” is better. Despite its purposeful retro flourishes, the vocal ornamentations are more discretely applied. The nostalgia for old love fits the song’s comfort zone.

Carper and Leigh penned “Won’t Be Worried Long” several years ago. They purposely capture the old-time sound of the Carter Family. The title references “Worried Man Blues” and what country music used to sound like. Leigh has a thick Southern drawl which adds a faux authenticity to the proceedings in a positive way. Perhaps because of its communal style, this works best of all the album tracks at conveying the woman as a group.

It is unclear just from hearing the recording who is playing what instrument and when to know how much each individual contributes to each song. For the threesome, the credits simply read: Melissa Carper: lead and harmony vocals, upright bass; Kelly Willis: lead and harmony vocals, rhythm guitar; Brennen Leigh: lead and harmony vocals, lead guitar, mandolin.

Carper sings the lead on John Prine‘s “I Have Met My Love Today”. Written near the end of his life, the lyrics beautifully express a dying man’s love for his wife. Brennen and Willis beautifully harmonize with Carper. Their vocals blend right into her rural accent and smooth out the edges as if they were actual angels. It’s a lovely way to end Wonder Women of Country.

RATING 7 / 10