Kelly Willis Translated From Love

If there was any justice in the world of country music, it’d be Willis, not Faith Hill, selling millions of records, but the immensely talented Kelly has always been too much of a maverick for the Nashville establishment (call her the pre-Neko). Instead, she’s long been part of the more adventurous Austin scene and since bursting onto the scene in 1990 with her superb Well Travelled Love debut, she has concentrated on putting out stylistically diverse but gently convincing albums. This is one of her best, featuring input from the likes of Ryan Adams’ band, Canadian guitar ace Greg Leisz and clean, unfussy production and guitar work from Chuck Prophet (Green On Red). Willis, Prophet and the great Jules Shear co-wrote some of the material, while writers covered here include Adam Green, Bowie and Iggy ("Success”), and Damon Bramblett. There’s a nice variety of tone and tempo, from the tender ("Sweet Little One,” "The More That I’m Around You”) to the frisky ("Teddy Boys”) to the hurtin’ ("Losing You,” "Too Much To Lose”). Kelly’s subtle, sexy voice remains a sweet treat throughout.

How did you come across Chuck Prophet?
I was aware of Green On Red and was a fan back in the day. When I got ready to make What I Deserve, the first producer brought Chuck in to play. Everything else about that session was a complete disaster but I kept Chuck and he came to Austin to help me finish that record. He’s been an invaluable part of my music for the past ten years. I felt he understood my songs and showed them at their best. You really have to trust the people you are working with. Even when you have a great deal of trust, there are moments when you think that the other person is out of their mind and your career’s going to go down the toilet!

Where did the idea of covering Iggy’s "Success” come from?
Chuck brought that in. The thing about that song that appealed [to me] was that I never talk or act like that in real life. I never just go out and go, "hell yeah. Hooray for me!” I’m always trying to be modest, kind, gracious, all that stuff, so I thought, "that sounds so fun. I just want to do that, be like that for one moment in my life!” Also, if I’m going to cover a song people know, it needs to be something that I could do something different with. I’m not going to cover a Lucinda Williams song.

Have you done much writing with your husband [hit country songwriter Bruce Robison]?
No. We sat down to write together one time and just ended up fighting. As I’ve heard from other people, you’re just too close to that person. It’s nice to have a little distance with somebody you’re writing with, where you have to be polite and respectful. If it’s your spouse, it’s like, "what do you mean? My idea is way better,” and you end up fighting! (Ryko)