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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Willis offers a deserving concert

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., April 21, 1999

By Jeffrey B. Remz

SOMERVILLE, MA - After years of languishing between record deals, has the time come for Kelly Willis?

The Austinite is touring hot on the heels of "What I Deserve," her Rykodisc debut filled with country twang and softer sounds. Two months since its release, the disc has sold a very healthy 30,000 copies. She's been atop the Americana radio charts for several weeks running.

And in concert before a packed house, Willis converted a strong album into a strong performance. That is underpinned by the voice of the diminutive singer. She used it to good effect throughout the 90-minute show, capably emoting passion and pain, often in love songs. Vulnerable, yet determined. whether on the title track or her previously recorded "Heaven's Just a Sin Away," a number one hit for The Kendalls in 1977.

Willis has displayed a keen sense at picking solid material. One of her favorite songwriters is her husband, Bruce Robison. Willis even sang "Take It Out on You," which she described as "the pure definition of a country song" since Robison and her ex-husband combined forces to write the musically upbeat song.

She sang a few songs from her extremely limited release (Texas only) of "Fading Fast," turning in a very solid performance on the title track, which also appears on "What I Deserve."

Willis was backed by a generally solid band, especially fiddler and back-up singer Amy Farris. Guitarist Jerry Holmes added many tasty licks as well. At times, the drumming proved a bit too loud, but usually the quartet delivered.

Robison opened with a solo acoustic 35-minute set comprised of a few new songs from his upcoming summer release and songs from his "Wrapped" disc of last year. In fact, Robison offered his version of the title song during his performance as did Willis later in his set. Both worked.

While a band may often add more punch to songs, Robison's warm voice was strong enough to overcome that obstacle.

Willis certainly has not had a linear career, but she now may be on the upswing once again.