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Kelly Willis, the alt-country sweetheart, has been married to Bruce Robison, writer of country-music hit singles, for 15 years now.
But after many years of maintaining separate careers, they are also now a musical duo.
“I don’t know if it was ever some big idea,” says Kelly Willis with a musical laugh. “It’s just something we’ve always sort of done. Our Christmas shows were always so fun, and obviously we’ve always been part of each other’s records. But we’re also our own people. We’ve always been very careful about not losing sight of that. We didn’t want to get lost in a duo because we are so different, and we’ve each worked so hard to establish our own careers.”
The thing about chemistry, though, is it can’t be denied. To hear them sing together is to understand opposite attraction, spontaneous combustion and a whole lotta life lived together. Robison and Willis—two decades in—know the way the other leans almost without talking.
And that telekinetic thrust is what makes Cheater’s Game, a collection of songs that hurt, cheat, doubt, lust and hold on, so very delicious. Whether it’s the busted samba refiguring of Dave Alvin’s “Border Radio” that turns up the woman’s reality from the Blasters’ original, Don Williams’ truth in what’s really going on “We’re All The Way” or the Beatles-esque shuffling pluck of sweeping close harmonies on Robison’s own “But I Do,” there’s complexity in the neon and the heartbreak, as much said in the tone these notes are sung with as the actual lyrics or what the instrumental breaks evoke.