erasing clouds

Kelly Willis, Translated From Love

reviewed by dave heaton

Texan Kelly Willis is always hovering nicely between traditional country and a charming style of pop/rock, alternately upbeat-catchy and deep-down yearning. Translated From Love tilts slightly more pop than her last couple albums, but that shouldn’t be a concern for anyone, as it’s glorious stuff, playing to all of her strengths.

That’s pop as in connected to the power of a good melody, not slick and over-produced. Willis has a knack for choosing the right collaborators; this time a good half the album was co-written with either Chuck Prophet or Jules Shear or both. Those are two songwriters, both always just outside the spotlight, with keen senses of melody. Prophet also produced the album, and with him Willis has found someone who understands the way her voice can do infectious and friendly without losing the feeling within.

And feeling there’s plenty of: songs like “Losing You”, “The More That I’m Around You” and “Don’t Know Why” continue Willis’ pattern of singing about love with both sweetness and genuine ache, exemplified by the latter song’s line “I don’t know why I gotta have you but I do.” Willis always manages to project that feeling that she’s going through what she’s singing – that she’s obsessing, that’s she in pain, that she’s filled with joy. And probably the most remarkable thing about Willis as a singer is how wide that spectrum of feelings and perspectives is. She even takes the naughty streaks of eccentrics like Iggy Pop (“Success”) and Adam Green (“Teddy Boys”) and gets them across within her own musical personality. It’s surprising, truly, how well those songs fit in here, as well as she previously brought in Nick Drake, Paul Westerberg and others. What’s that she sings on the first song, “Nobody wants to go to the moon anymore”? She takes risks but makes them seem as easy as a smile.


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