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Kelly Willis

What I Deserve (Rykodisc). Review by James Mann

Kelly Willis

What I Deserve

Rykodisc

Texan Kelly Willis has one of the more seductive, strong voices in country music today, and has great songwriting and selecting talents. Unfortunately, a listener of her new album — her first on Rykodisc after a few years on A+M, won’t learn of her charms from this work.

Overproduced with a slick, “Nashville-Friendly” sound, this record holds such great potential that its failure is more disappointing than is really fair. First off, the songs. The songs are great. Featuring music co-written with the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, and covers of Nick Drake (“Time Has Told Me”), Paul Westerberg (“They’re Blind” from the Replacements’ Don’t Tell a Soul album), and “Heavenbound” by Damon Bramblett, in addition to songs penned by Willis’ husband Bruce Robison, the tunes make you wish you could hear them live.

The musicians on the project are top notch — Chuck Prophet, former Green On Red guitarist is here, as well as Lloyd Maines on steel and John Dee Graham on guitar. It’s an amazing feat that producer Dave McNair has managed to make Prophet, normally one of the sharper, more innovative guitarists out there, sound like a Nashville studio hack. Note to producers of “alternative country” — if you ever have the option to put phase or flange on a guitar — DON’T! This record sounds generic. Dial-it-in country, and not the vehicle a talent like Willis deserves. See her live, and hope for better days in the future.

Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress St., Salem, MA 01970; http://www.rykodisc.com

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