Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Kelly Willis at the Loft at City Winery

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, a nine-year-old Kelly Willis began singing as a way to comfort herself after her parents divorced. Her father was a U.S. Army colonel so, after the divorce, Willis and her siblings moved around the country to accommodate his assignments. She spent her middle school years in North Carolina and her high school years in Annandale, Virginia. One day during a high school visit to the beach, she entered a nearby pay recording booth and sang Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear." Willis' recording impressed her then boyfriend, drummer Mas Palermo; his rockabilly band recruited the 16 year old as lead vocalist and renamed the band Kelly Willis & the Fireballs. After Willis’s high school graduation, the band relocated to Austin, Texas, but then disintegrated a few months later. Willis and Palermo, married in 1989, formed a short-lived rockabilly band called Radio Ranch; they divorced in 1991. Willis launched a solo career, and in 2011 she and her second husband, Bruce Robison, began singing as a duo. Willis released Back Being Blue, her seventh solo album and first solo album in 11 years, on May 18, 2018.

At the Loft at City Winery tonight, a new 150-seat venue above City Winery, Willis sang old-style country western and chatted genially with the audience between songs, sharing anecdotes about the composition's origins. Willis' performance embraced the era before Nashville discovered the power ballad to refine the heartache-meets-honky-tonk inclination of the more traditional breed of country music. While many lyrics touched on the pains of life, her projection affected joyful nuances with a rich southern twang in her soprano vocals. Much of her past catalog included rockabilly and outlaw inflections, however, and these were largely missing in tonight's showcase. While her performance was quite pleasant, it would have been more uniquely expansive if she had balanced more rockabilly and outlaw elements into her soft-rocking set.

Visit Kelly Willis at www.kellywillis.com.

Setlist:
  1. Back Being Blue
  2. If I Left You
  3. Only You
  4. Heaven Bound
  5. What I Deserve
  6. Modern World
  7. Fool’s Paradise
  8. Wrapped Around Your Finger
  9. What the Heart Doesn’t Know
  10. Heaven's Just a Sin Away
  11. Sweet Sundown
  12. We’ll Do It for Love Next Time
  13. Not Forgotten You
  14. Find Another Fool
  15. Afternoon’s Gone Blind
  16. Take It All Out on You
  17. Freewheeling
  18. Get Real
  19. Don’t Step Away
Encore:
  1. Whatever Way the Wind Blows