Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis

Cheater's Game – 2013 (Spunk)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis

With Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell's new disc and tour, and Faith and Tim's Soul2Soul sojourn still on the road, four months into 2013, and it's already been one hell of a year for country duets. That said, don't call the latest release from Kelly Willis and husband Bruce Robison merely the icing on the cake. Considering the pair - despite being married for years - seldom record together, they've made their new album a 13-song, multi-course feast. While there's a heavy theme playing off the title cut - yes, plenty of cheatin' and leavin' songs - there is plenty of reason to smile.

There's a tension, a virtual mini-drama on virtually every cut. Willis takes the lead on a cover of 9,999,999 Tears. Yet, it's Robison who sounds like the wounded lover. Same with her cover of Dave Alvin's Border Radio. And Robison wrings the emotion out of his self-penned Leavin'.

Willis, who seems to be absolutely content away from the hassles of Nashville and performing as the best vocalist many probably never heard, but absolutely must, is stunning as Robison's vocal partner. And Robison, who has penned number one songs for George Strait and the Dixie Chicks, has written seven songs that are must-hears.

While hardly the start of a beautiful musical relationship, it's a big step toward affirming the couple's talents as a heavyweight country duo. And if took a little cheating to make it happen, so be it.