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Robison, Willis provide perfect antidote even if not weird

The Next Waltz Studio, Austin, Texas (live and recorded livestream), December 20, 2020

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Bruce Robison billed the soon to be live streamed Bruce & Kelly's Holiday Shut-In Shindig (A Virtual Special) as the "weirdest show ever" as he sat live with wife and fellow performer Kelly Willis both dressed in green and red at their home in Texas.

The 21st edition of the show, recorded at Robison's studio and enhanced a bit "to make it sound better for you guys," according to Robison, was not exactly weird, but it sure was the perfect antidote to a difficult holiday season (and year).

The husband-and-wife team launched the night with Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy" with Wills taking the lead. Originally on their "Happy Holidays" release from 2006, Wills does not play second fiddle to Owens. In fact, she may have topped him with her twangy vocals, holding the notes and bounce to her delivery.

"I love playing these songs and how it connects us to doing these holiday shows," said Robison in the live feed, before playing RB Morris' "A Winter's Tale" with Robison softly taking lead vocals while strumming acoustic guitar and some sad sounding (is there any other way?) pedal steel guitar from Geoff Queen.

Prior to each song, Robison and Robison commented on what was to unfold from the studio recording. They weren't planning to do any live music, but gave a little snippet of Willis' "What I Deserve," a gentle take of "If I Had a Rose" with Robison nicely backing on harmonies and Robison sang "Wrapped " near the end.

The Shindig included a few guests, including Ray Wylie Hubbard singing "The Christmas Blues." Hubbard is perceived as more of a country singer than blues, but he more than did justice to the song penned by Wilbert Harrison.

Robison and Willis smartly followed that off with "The Christmas Boogie," which they learned from the Davis Sisters. The song is a jazzy bluesy song with Queen once again a standout on pedal steel runs with keyboards underneath.

Robison has penned only one holiday song, "The Okie Christmas." "I don't know how you do a holiday song without profanities," he said. "At my house, it was such a big part of the holidays." With their easy going style and rapport, the commentary fleshed out the song. Kelly imparted that her aunt did not appreciate Robison's language one bit. Upon hearing the song, one could understand why. ("I said, "God damn, pass the sweet potato pie.")

To make up for it, Willis offered "The Bleak Midwinter," a 19th century from English poet Christina Rossetti and "the polar opposite of that song," according to Willis. Pianist Trevor Nealon kicked off the quiet song, living up to the title. Willis captured the emotion of the song as well, which she learned from a hymnal.

Austin singer Shakey Graves guested by giving with his take of "Father Christmas," a song by The Kinks that Robison said he heard as a kid. The song rocked, something that Robison and Willis just don't do. Chances are that Willis' aunt would not have liked this one either with lines like "Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys." Graves most definitely provided a change of pace.

During their typical holiday shows in the clubs and theatres, Robison and Willis apparently bring home videos to show at clubs. They didn't disappoint any fans tonight either. "What better way to acme the holidays than force people to watch your home videos," joked Willis.

The videos of their four children, with a recording of Willis singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the background, were cute, but one suspects this is about the only time of year that they would work.

Not everything was Christmas themed as Robison gave a quiet reading of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" after recounting their friendship and the late singer's appearance at one of their holiday concerts in Austin.

Robison and Willis were cup half full about the future with the forward looking. "This Will Be Our Year for a Long Time to Come" with Willis assuming lead. "It feels like things are coming around," said Willis in the song introduction, adding, "I'm optimistic." "That song makes me feel better," said Robison.

They closed with formal portion of the gig with "Baby, It's Cold Outside," which Robison said gave them the inspiration back the first time they did it in 1999 to continue doing the holiday shows. The vocal give-and-take between Robison and Wills worked as usual in what was a warm evening of music.

Set list
Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy
A Winter's Tale – RB Morris
- The Christmas Blues – Ray Wylie Hubbard sang
The Christmas Boogie
What I Deserve – in the studio
The Okie Christmas
-The Bleak Midwinter
Father Christmas – Shakey Graves
If I Had a Rose – Willis on the live recording
Mr. Bojangles
This Will Be Our Year for a Long Time to Come
Twas the Night Before Christmas – read by Ray Wylie Hubbard
Baby It's Cold Outside
Feliz Navidad

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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