Bruce Robison / Kelly Willis

Our Year

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As the adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Husband-and-wife team Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis follow up 2013's successful duet album Cheater's Game with Our Year. Once more enlisting Brad Jones as producer, this collection of originals and covers goes right to the heart of what made Cheater's Game special: the pairing of these voices in a decidedly Texas take on traditional country music. Their approach is as timeless as the pairing of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Robison's and Willis' songs stack up with the legendary tunes they've cut here. On Walter Hyatt's rambling four/four country rocker "Motor City Man," Willis' lead vocal digs deep into the swinging groove with Robison picking up the slack in harmony as Robison's bluesy harmonica fills the tags. The deep roots reading of Tom T. Hall's "Harper Valley P.T.A." -- made a honky tonk classic by Jeannie C. Riley -- finds Willis' lead vocal earthier, less sassy, and more authoritative, underscored by Robison's more plaintive support. Additionally, Willis is backed by acoustic instrumentation -- mandolins, dobro, acoustic guitars, and upright bass. The duet approach on Don Reid's "I'll Go to My Grave Loving You" builds to a skittering strut on the verse led by Robison as Willis digs in for more dimension underneath: fiddle, pedal steel, brushed drums, and acoustic guitars frame the pair. Robyn Ludwick, Robison's younger sister and a hell of a songwriter, penned set-opener "Departing Louisiana." Robison's lead vocal captures the sense of desperation and long-suffering in the lyric as Willis highlights the longing in her harmony, accompanied by dobro, mandolin, and a harmonium. Willis' and Paul Kennerley's "Lonely for You" is bursting with barroom swagger and country blues. Robison's and Darden Smith's "Carousel," and "Anywhere But Here" with Monte Warden, are ballads in the lineage traditions of Lefty Frizzell and Robert Earle Keen, respectively. The closer "This Will Be Our Year," by Chris White, highlights everything that makes these two voices resonate: both are understated; able to make emotional depth come forth without acrobatics or added drama. Their individual and shared timbres highlight the subtle graces and truths in the best country songs. And while both are strong singers individually, as a duet, they are a powerhouse. Get this one.

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