“Cheater’s Game” is the couple Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis’s first full-length album together.
By ANDY LANGER
Published: February 9, 2013
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis have been married for 16 years, but they will tie the knot professionally on Tuesday with the release of “Cheater’s Game,” their first full-length album together.
Both Mr. Robison and Ms. Willis have developed successful solo careers. He is a sought-after songwriter who has written three No. 1 Billboard Country hits, and Ms. Willis has recorded a half-dozen albums, establishing herself as a key player in the Americana music movement.
Over the years, the two have occasionally collaborated — Ms. Willis has covered Mr. Robison’s songs on her albums, and they play a popular annual holiday concert together — but they have avoided entangling careers, in part, Mr. Robison said, because it is hard for a couple with four children to tour together.
But Mr. Robison said they realized it was silly not to give fans a joint album. For “Cheater’s Game,” they wrote seven new songs and selected six covers, a process Mr. Robison called “a labor of love.”
To celebrate the album’s release, and of course, Valentine’s Day, we asked Texas country’s first couple to choose their favorite love songs.
NEIL YOUNG, ‘HARVEST MOON’
Kelly Willis: Before we got married, we broke up a couple of times. You know how it is when you hear a song that makes you agonize over being away from the other one? This was it. I saw Neil Young do it on “Saturday Night Live” and called Bruce about it. And I truly think it drew us back together.
Bruce Robison: And to me, the story of the song is the line “Because I’m still in love with you.” You wonder a lot when you’re broken up whether you left ‘the one’ behind. It’s about realizing you’re still in love and not denying those feelings.
GEORGE JONES, ‘HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY’
Willis: It’s about the endless, timeless love that will outlast us all.
Robison: I think I fell in love with you when you didn’t understand who died in the song.
Willis: That’s true. We were at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar in Bandera, dancing, and we were really new together. I looked up at him and said, “She died.” He just started laughing. I realized that I was wrong, and he died. I also realized at that moment, gazing up at him, that I was in love with Bruce. It was a moment that the world stopped.
BRUCE ROBISON, ‘WRAPPED’
Robison: It’s cheesy to pick your own song, but I wrote “Wrapped” about Kelly. And every time I sing that song, I think of it as the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. But it came, again, from a really sad time. We were broken up. And now I’ve played it at 50 weddings, which is bizarre.
Willis: Yeah, but to me the chorus is very much a love song; “I thought I was doin’ fine / ’Bout to get you off my mind / I see your face and then / I’m wrapped around your pretty little finger again.” It’s about being selflessly in love.
Robison: It’s a breakup song that transitioned into a love song. The song means something completely different to me now than when I wrote it.
WINGS, ‘MAYBE I’M AMAZED’
Robison: We got in a huge fight over this one.
Willis: Bruce was saying he couldn’t relate to songs that are so loving and affectionate and couldn’t understand how anyone could write one. I got incredibly offended.
Robison: It’s always been hard for me. I consider myself more from the tradition of super-sad country songs. There are love songs that I really like, but in most of them somebody is in pain or dying. I think as a practical matter, outwardly loving and affectionate love songs are really difficult to sit down and write.
Willis: And I think it should be very, very easy to write a song about how much you love me.
WILLIE NELSON, ‘ANGELS FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND’
Robison: I love that the woman is the beautiful, ethereal thing and the guy is down there below, lucky that the beautiful girl came through his life.
Willis: To me, it’s about the way you can make someone into an angel. When you fall in love, you’re so enamored of them that you see lights coming around from the back of them.
Robison: It’s a better version of that sentiment than Conway Twitty’s “Tight-Fittin’ Jeans,” which is the same story.
Willis: That song makes me want to throw up.
THE STATLER BROTHERS, ‘I’LL GO TO MY GRAVE LOVING YOU’
Willis: He’s not going to tell her. She’ll never know. He’ll go to his grave, but he’ll love her forever because she is married to his friend. When we sing this together live, it’s about something different: it’s about each other and how we love each other till death do we part.
Robison: I suppose it’s a love song because neither one of them is dead. Yet. It’s just a matter of whether she goes to the graveside service or not. Wow. This is the darkest love-song list ever. We apologize. We’re sorry. We really are.
Andy Langer is the music columnist for Esquire and the afternoon D.J. at KGSR in Austin.
A version of this article appeared in print on February 10, 2013, on page A29B of the National edition with the headline: Texas Country’s ‘First Couple’ and Their Love Songs.