Bruce Robison / Kelly Willis

Happy Holidays

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Kelly Willis and her spouse Bruce Robison both have a knack for writing simple, emotionally straightforward country tunes, and they know how to make them work in the studio with plenty of heart and soul and a low level of extraneous fluff. So it's good to see them release a collaborative album at last, even if it's a modest Christmas-themed effort, and Happy Holidays finds the couple in fine form together. Dominated by covers (Robison contributes the album's sole original, "Oklahoma Christmas," which sounds like a more concise and less snarky variation on Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas from the Family"), Happy Holidays moves back and forth between seasonal torch songs (Willis sounds sexy indeed on "Santa Baby," and she and Robison are both playful and sensuous on "Baby, It's Cold Outside"), somber but celebratory numbers such as "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "A Winter's Tale" (delivered respectively by Willis and Robison with feeling and dignity), and twangy Yuletide tunes, such as Charlie Louvin's "Shut in at Christmas," Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy," and the tongue-in-cheek "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk." While the production and arrangements are elegant and concise, this hardly sounds like a tossed-together Christmas quickie, with the headliners and their backing musicians presenting these songs with care and affection, and if this isn't the twang-tastic holiday disc some might have expected, it delivers equal portions of taste, passion and great music, and anyone with an ear for either Willis or Robison will want to have this on hand for their tree-trimming party.

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