Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison's latest release, Our Year, draws comparisons to classic duos like Johnny ’n’ June and George ’n’ Tammy.
The two fell in love while harmonizing together, though it took them until 2013 to release their first officially billed joint effort (not counting four children): Cheater’s Game.
Cheater’s Game was well received and Willis and Robison felt the wind at their backs. They were eager to return to the studio.
“With this album, we feel like we’re completing the picture,” Willis says. “These songs have been poking us on the shoulder, dying to be heard. We just didn’t feel like we were done. We had more to say.”
Working again in Nashville with producer Brad Jones, they delivered their musical thoughts in 10 tracks, from formidable originals to well-honed covers including a knockout version of the Tom T. Hall-penned “Harper Valley PTA.” Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 hit sounds like a classic all over again in the hands of this pair — and the chicken-pickin’, mandolin-plucking, shaker-grooving players who back them on this tart tale.
On their shared web site, Willis describes how she learned the song in secret in order to zing her hubby for veering off the set list during one of their shared performances, dubbed “The Bruce and Kelly Show.” It went over so well, they not only added it to their set, they made it the album’s leadoff single. Watch them perform it below:
“Kelly has been singing [with me] since the first recording I made,” Robison says, “and she was the first person who ever recorded one of my songs. We’ve never stopped collaborating.”
The difference now is that they’re not assisting one another; they’re full partners.
“It’s not one of us running the show. It’s the two of us figuring out how to play together,” Willis explains. And that creates a different vibe, especially live. “I almost never worry when I’m onstage with Bruce because I know he’s got my back,” she adds. “If something goes wrong, he can completely take the reins.”
The desire to capture that live dynamic — their “swampier, grittier side” — drove the creation of Our Year, Willis says. Robison calls their style “a modern take on classic country music, without being retro.”
“I really feel like we came up with a sound, the way that the vocals blend together, and it rejuvenated me as an artist and a performer, which I really needed after 20 years,” he admits. “There’s a lot of great duos, and I love that. That close-harmony singing, it’s real organic; it’s a really lovely thing.”
Our Year releases May 27, 2014.
For more, check out bruceandkellyshow.com