Bruce Robison + Kelly Willis: Together Again, A Year Later – Continental Gallery, Post-SXSW 2012
She was the queen of post-modern cred-country. He was the aw-shucks singer/songwriter with the #1 records on George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, and Tim McGraw with Faith Hill. They were the first couple from Texas’ alt-country scene, and separate but equal propositions with their own careers to tend to.
Last South By Southwest, Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis did the unthinkable: they teamed up for the Americana Music Association’s show at Antone’s. More a merging of solo acts than a genuine duo, they were endearing in their awkwardness and engaging in their off-the-cuff camaraderie.
Ahhh, what a difference a year makes!
In the Continental Gallery’s intimate upstairs space, feeling nearly like someone’s living room, the pair were joined by an upright bass player, a drummer with a cocktail kit, and a utility player who can make a steel sob, snarl, bleed, and leave puddles of tears all over the stage.
Opening with Dave Alvin’s “Border Radio,” they time traveled to a place where country music was adult emotions that could only be measured by those late night broadcasts from somewhere in Mexico. Each has a resolute country classicism to them: Willis has a broad-throated catch that’s all angst, regret and the occasional whoop of euphoria, Robison’s that slow Texas songwriter meander that draws on Ray Price, Willie Nelson and even Lyle Lovett sans quirk.
A slight mariachi feel transformed Don Willians’ “We Are All The Way,” the hestitant song of recognizing one’s flaws and willing oneself to find the strength to survive the lapses. When Willis joins her husband, it is two people fighting to survive – and the honesty to their leaning into each other vocally suggests the strength it takes to make it in today’s world.
While each played a few hits – Robison turning in a Broken Spoke-worthy “Wrapped,” Willis igniting Jeannie C. Riley’s brassy “Harper Valley PTA” with all the moxy of someone torching the hypocrites right where they live – this was a show about how two people engage and complement each other, become a pair rather than just partners.
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