RLJ burst out of the late Seventies with a beat poet heart and mesmerizing jazz pop vocals. Sultry and coy, the Chicagoan, 64, remained provocative and experimental as she captured two Grammys and mainstream success. This month’s Kicks delivers her distinctive interpretations on everyone from Elton John to Bad Company.
After both Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis delivered their first solo albums in over a decade in 2017 and 2018, respectively, Austin’s leading couple of country music return to the magic of their duets with fourth paired LP Beautiful Lie.
“We were both really eager to go out and do our own thing after a while, just to prove that we can still do that, but it really allows us to see what the other person brings to the experience,” offered Willis on Tuesday. “I miss what he brings whenever he’s not onstage with me, so I think it’s been a great thing to really appreciate each other. I feel like we do complement each other so well. We have a really different take on stuff, but it just goes really well together.”
The new album balances on the couple’s effortless harmonies – Willis’ twang lingering against Robison’s
laid-back drawl – but also highlights their dedication to finding songs they can inhabit uniquely. Among the Robison originals on Beautiful Lie are cover gems like David Ball’s “Lost My Best” and the title track from the Amazing Rhythm Aces.
“The songs are always accumulating,” laughs Willis. “Bruce has stuff he’s squirreled away that we mess around with and see what works with our harmonies. Especially with the Next Waltz, Bruce is combing through songs a lot these days.”
A singles series generating one-offs by the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Turnpike Troubadours out in Robison’s Lockhart studio, Next Waltz now expands into a label and management company.
“Who knows how to find your way in the music business anymore,” admits Willis, “but let’s at least take some time to shine a little light on great artists and great songs.”
Empowering women of color through the arts, Chingona Fest headlines Tribes. The El Paso octet breathes new life into traditional mariachi as rock percussion coalesces with violins and trumpets. Other talent includes Selena tribute Bidi Bidi Banda and all-women mariachi powerhouse Mariachi Las Coronelas. Tiarra Girls ply bilingual sibling rock.
Classic rock gets a contemporary power makeover. Saturday, ex-Melvins engine room Coady Willis and Jared Warren coat Zeppelin-esque bomp in digital malevolence on sixth Big Business bash The Beast You Are.