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Wonder Women of Country live up to their name

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., June 23, 2024

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

When you label your band Wonder Women of Country, you're putting a lot of self-induced pressure on yourselves. Or maybe the moniker was meant tongue in check.

Whatever. That's because Wonder Women of Country – Kelly Willis, Brennen Leigh and Melissa Carper – more than lived up to their name.

The trio not only had the chance to do their own songs, but dished out a half-a-dozen songs from their very fine, recently released EP.

The show was performed guitar pull style – each member sang one song at a time with the other two almost always chiming in on gorgeous backing vocals. The night moved quickly – with one glitch - as almost every song clocked in at under three minutes.

Getting the night rolling with "Fool's Paradise," Willis' gorgeous voice remains just as it did when she burst on the scene in 1990 with her major label debut. She sings with a lot of intensity and feeling, often holding the notes for added impact. Her take on "Wrapped," a hit for George Strait written by her ex-husband, Bruce Robison, and "What I Deserve" were further evidence.

Leigh was a strong singer in her own right with her own powerful delivery and more forceful than Willis. Leigh was on the twangy country side with such songs as "Carole With An E." She also was one very sharp acoustic guitarist, assuming the leads on a number of songs with her exact playing.

Carper set a different tone with her nasally delivery with more of a down home style even if not as pretty as her counterparts. Carper's voice came to the fore on the very personal "Pray the Gay Away," perhaps the highlight of the night. Carper sang of growing up and always being gay, altering the words of the chorus at the end to comfortable in one's own skin. Powerful stuff. (that was not the only gay-themed song of the night as Leigh offered "Billy & Beau" right before that. Has country music changed over the years!).

As for the half-dozen, diverse Wonder Women of Country songs, all were keepers. Leigh had a Hawaiian music feel on "Fly Ya to Hawaii." Willis scored with "Another Broken Heart," penned with her Robison and Monte Warden. And the Wonder Women showed good judgement in covering John Prine's "I Have Met My Love Today" with Carper on lead vocals.

The only hiccup during the 80-minute show was an unfortunate one. Carper's bridge fell apart on her bass, causing Leigh to kill time by engaging in about five minutes of musical one liners (all of them pretty funny and delivered off the cuff). And then the bridge went again. This time, Carper bagged a repair and treated an acoustic guitar handed to her by the Passim manager.

Truth be told, though. While Carper obviously would have preferred her upright, she did just fine playing bass lines on the acoustic guitar.

Carper, Leigh and Willis all could stand on their own, but Wonder Women of Country sure made for a wonderful night of music together.

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