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Kelly Willis | Easy (Rykodisc)
There can be no argument that the Americana boom in recent years has opened doors for the classier crop of traditional 'Music Row' country artists. And there can be no debating that Kelly Willis is pretty classy. But, through a canny choice of covers on her second album 'What I Deserve', she managed to open doors of her own volition. Her swoonsome take on Nick Drake's Time Has Told Me was the key track, consequently appearing on magazine cover-mounts the globe over. Unexpected ears pricked up, and those to investigate further would find interpretations of songs by Paul Westerberg and Paul Kelly, plus a handful co-composed with Gary Louris, and the heavy presence of Chuck Prophet. Clever girl. 'What I Deserve' was, in its own quiet way, quite an influential album, doing the cause of traditional country music and the scores of palatable performers that operate within its borders no harm at all. As for 'Easy' - the hotly anticipated follow-up - we have much of the same, but it's not quite as cool. The most notable cover is Kirsty MacColl's Don't Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim! where Willis again shows her interpretive capabilities. But it is closer Reason To Believe (no, not that one) that takes the plaudits here, with a gorgeous, breathy vocal over exquisite and delicate playing by a top-notch band that once again includes her good friend Prophet. Beyond that and the bouncy You Can't Take It With You, this is a less challenging set than its predecessor, but whilst presided over by Willis' pleading voice with its subtle husk and swoop, it's still a gently seductive work. This will keep the apple bobbin' for Kelly Willis, and whilst she retains the sus that helps set her apart from similarly styled peers, she'll do just fine.

Tom Sheriff
August 2002