Kelly Willis

Kelly Willis
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As Kelly Willis planned to go into the studio last fall, she really didn’t know what to expect. She had spent the four years since co-producing her 2002 album, the lovely, laid-back Easy, on family matters: her oldest son Deral, born in 2001, got three siblings – twins Abby and Ben born in 2004 and baby Joseph, whose birth followed in early 2006. “This time around, I had absolutely no time or energy to be involved in the producer role at all,” Willis recalls. So she called a guy “who lives and breathes music,” whose instincts she loved and who she felt “really comfortable around:” Chuck Prophet, the edgy singer-songwriter who contributed guitar to both Easy and 1999’s acclaimed What I Deserve. Together, they would create the most sonically adventurous album of Kelly Willis’ seventeen-plus-year recording career, Translated From Love. In the beginning, Willis assumed she would cut an album of covers since she’d been too busy changing diapers to write songs. Once Prophet arrived at Willis’ Austin, Texas, home things changed. Half of the richly textured album’s dozen tracks are originals, co-written by Kelly and her collaborators. Willis found herself pleasantly surprised that “I was able to get some songs written that I am proud of and excited about and that give the album some of its depth and personality and soul…” As Prophet describes it, “We cooked up a cool record. Wrote a mess of songs. We got all ‘housewife goth’ with it – gingham aprons and bad blood.” Indeed, among the engaging originals and intriguing covers – derived from such tunesmiths as Adam Green, Damon Bramblett, Jules Shear, and – yes, you heard it right – Iggy Pop – there are musical nods to five decades of rock, pop, and country: girl-group drum sounds one minute, strings-drenched C&W angst the next. “We wrote some songs that just lent themselves to that encyclopedia of sounds,” says Willis, “plus Chuck really did his research about my history and my career and he knew that when I first started out I was doing rockabilly music.” Hence, the nod to Willis’ first band (at age 16!), Kelly and the Fireballs, via Adam Green’s retro-cool “Teddy Boys,” with its wry, ‘80s-style Moog synthesizer. Another of Willis’ former combos, Austin’s roots-rockin’ Radio Ranch, was represented by its former guitarist Michael Hardwick, who played dobro on “I Must Be Lucky.” The bluesy original (by Willis, Prophet, and Jules Shear) features a gutsy reading by Willis who “comes off like Link Wray’s girlfriend ,” according to Prophet. Imbued with been-there-done-that attitude, it’s a kind of companion piece to a song Prophet played for her on guitar one day – the sarcastic “Success.” Says Prophet, “She lit up when she heard that Iggy song, especially when it came to that line. ‘Here comes my face/it’s plain bizarre’.” “I’d never heard it before and it just cracked me up,” Kelly agrees. Fueled by Michael Ramos’s vintage Vox organ (“96 Tears” style) and the Gourds’ slaphappy background vocals, Willis sasses Iggy’s taunting lyrics with hard-won conviction. “In the beginning, I was a little worried about doing ‘Success’ and ‘I Must Be Lucky,’” says Willis, “because I hadn’t done that kind of thing in a long time. But then Chuck showed me this picture of me on Wikipedia – it’s a photo from my first record [in 1990]. I’m wearing this leather jacket and I have this fake pompadour, and he was like, ‘That girl could do it.’ He was right – they ended up being some of my favorites. It was so much fun!” The yin to those songs’ yang are such tearjerkers as the Willis-Prophet co-write “Losing You,” accented by Greg Leisz’s emotive pedal steel. “There’s a sadness below Kelly, as if she’s been touched by fire a time too many,” says Prophet. “You can hear it in her voice.” That yearning, triste quality really comes across in the bittersweet title track, with its evocative accordion and acoustic guitars. “Chuck brought that song in and I thought it was just stunning,” says Willis. It was Willis’ remarkable voice that stunned those in the studio, according to Prophet. “She’s one of those singers who can make a track come alive. She’s got that kind of charisma.” Translated From Love documents Willis really cutting loose, perhaps more than she ever did back in the 1990s, over the course of three country albums for MCA. “I came from the school of Nashville where you try to get as many tracks as you can in a day,” says Willis, “but this time we would spend an entire day on one song, just play it to death, over and over, backwards and forwards, and the songs would kind of morph into something else. It was a real organic process and the songs found their natural little niche.” Thus the Bobbie Gentry-esque arrangement of Willis’ ode to a lost love, “Sweet Little One;” the catchy pop-rock bounce of “Don’t Know Why,” a collaboration with Prophet and Shear; and the torchy waltz “Stones Throw Away,” another Willis-Prophet composition, this time in cahoots with Greg Leisz. “I had that title and the riff,” Kelly says of the song’s genesis, “and the two guitar players [Prophet and Leisz] started to go to town on it. Every time I’d bring in a song, it would be this kind of starry girl thing, and then the guys would just totally ‘boy’ it up!” One of those, the powerful “Too Much to Lose,” features husband Bruce Robison on vocals. “Most of the songs I write are inspired by being married for ten years and trying to maintain the marriage,” Willis explains. “That song is about weathering a relationship, all the ups and downs, and making it work – how there’s too much to lose at this point. Initially, I had Bruce sing on it because I thought that he would be the best voice for it, but then as we did it, it felt really special, like ‘Wow, he is the only person who should sing with me on that song!’” For Willis’ part, she hopes that the sonic adventures which transpired while making Translated From Love will convey to listeners what it brought to her: “I didn’t want to feel like I was spinning my wheels and doing the same old thing. The whole experience was surprising at every turn and challenging, too, doing some material that might not be what people expect out of me. I felt like I had something to prove, and I want people to do a double-take when they listen to this.” Most of all, though, says Willis, “I just wanted to go in and have fun!”
Date Venue City State Note
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02/14/2008 - Kelly Willis and Her Wandering Ways - Read More
10/12/2007 - Willis needed help with return to music - Read More
06/28/2007 - Willis to mark release of 'Love' - Read More
03/19/2007 - Yes, You Can Find Country at South by Southwest - Read More
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06/01/2007 - Kelly Willis Q&A - Read More
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Average Rating : 5              Total Reviews: 19

Kelly Willis  09/05/2012            
Andreas from Switzerland
wonderful woman and singer;-) only insiders know her here, but she should be better known...well however it's not easy to be a mother and doing a career the same time!
Kelly Willis  06/29/2007            
Hellooeh - this is just a testing, dont worry about it
Kelly Willis  06/20/2007            
Kelly Wills for Ms. Texas
Kelly Willis is my dreamgirl!! Voice is amazing. Nashville girls could only dream to sound that good. My Dodge pickup will not spit it out of the cd player most of the time. She has pure Texas lady looks, the cutest smile and oh those pretty eyes. Kelly you rock my world. Can't wait to finally get a brand new cd in my collection! Bruce you are one lucky dude! See Yall at Gruene Hall!
Kelly Willis  06/01/2007            
I'm really excited about this album, already love her old stuff, can't wait to hear what this has to offer...not to mention, she looks amazing for being a mother of 4!!
Kelly Willis  05/31/2007            
Kelly Willis is awesome, but Jessica Murray sang with Cory (not CorEy)...
Kelly Willis  07/23/2006            
I first heard Kelly sing "talk like that" on an Alt. country compilation cd years ago and instantly became a fan. I caught her show last friday in Gruene and was blown away (even got a cd signed!) One of, if not the best vocalist in music today. Really lookin forward to her next cd.
Kelly Willis  08/17/2005            
Kelly Willis is going to be a legend. I think she is an awesome singer...with a great start. She is known for her backup singing, mostly performing with Corey Morrow. I really started liking her when she sang a short segment of " I shot the Sherrif " during corey's band introduction on his live CD. If you have not herd it I highly recommend it. Its close to the end of the CD, and the end of the song. KELLY YOUR AWESOME. besides...dont we need more texas music from girls?
Kelly Willis  11/30/2004            
What's This?
Need feedback on the Gruene X-mas show! Do Bruce and Kelly play their own music or Rudolph The Rednosed Raindeer songs? Gotta know before I decide to go!
Kelly Willis  11/30/2004            
Whats This?
Need feedback on the Gruene X-mas show! Do Bruce and Kelly play their own music or Rudolph The Rednosed Raindeer songs? Gotta know before I decide to go!
Kelly Willis  02/13/2004            
Released in 1991 and very hard to find, this release is a must have for Kelly Willis fans. It was my first purchase of a Kelly Willis disc. I had never heard any of her songs before and I bought the CD from the used disc bin just because I loved the sexy photo on the inside of the insert. There are so many great songs here. Just wait until you hear "The Heart That Love Forgot". By the time I got to the last song, which is my personal favorite, "Settle For Love", I was hooked. After listening to this and all her other releases, Kelly is now my favorite country artist! If you don't have this CD yet, get it! It is a great release from Kelly!
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