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Willis, Robison prove to be a most pleasant anomaly

Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge, MA, June 9, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are quite the anomaly when it comes to modern country music.

Yes, there are other couples out there who both perform, the current King and Queen of Country Music are Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, of course. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill readily come to mind as well. While both couples have recorded songs together and in the case of the latter toured together a number of times, none of them have ever made it a cornerstone of their career.

For that alone, Robison and Willis deserve credit, but they not only tour together - and once again, another strong effort on this night in a packed tiny club - but they also recorded their second straight joint CD.

"Our Year" may be considered more of a collaboration than an out-and-out duets album, and that was also true in concert as Robison himself pointed out. Willis and Robison tended to take leads on each song with the spouse kicking in on backing vocals and harmonies. Both have enjoyed much success on their own with Willis having a recording career going back 20 years. Robison also has enjoyed a solo career, but he has gained more success as a songwriter with Dixie Chicks, George Strait and McGraw recording his material.

One of the highlights of the evening - as it seemingly is every time Robison comes to town - is his rendition of "Travelin' Soldier," the number one hit for the Chicks. Robison always manages to take probably a mixture of chagrin and an "oh well" attitude in describing how the song went number one the very same week that Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines uttered here famous words about being embarrassed that then President George W. Bush was from Texas. "Travelin' Soldier" stayed atop the Billboard chart for a nanosecond as a result.

No matter because the story still resonates as being about a soldier going off to war and coming home in a pine box.

Willis, as usual, was her excellent singing self as she has done for about 25 years. Willis showed her traditional country roots, something she excels at, with an on target reading of Tom T. Hall's funny "Harper Valley PTA." Other highlights included the new bouncy new "Motor City Man," "What I Deserve" and Dicky Lee's "9,999,999 Tears."

The backing trio didn't have a whole lot of space in the corner of the 105-person club. And while you couldn't always see Geoff Queen on guitar and pedal steel; and the rhythm section, they sure made the music sound real good.

Robison and Willis would make for fine concerts on their own, but the chance to see them together is just a special night - even if and especially because it is out of the ordinary.

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