by Sam C. Mac Music Rooted & Restless

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis | Beautiful Lie

July 22, 2019

Beautiful Lie caps a trilogy of releases this decade from husband-and-wife duo Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (the other two being 2013’s Cheater’s Game and 2014’s Our Year) and follows Willis’s first solo album in over a decade, the Robison-produced Back Being Blue — easily the most under-appreciated country album of last year. And the under-appreciation continues: Beautiful Lie isn’t even listed on AllMusic yet. Even with no one paying much attention, though, this couple continues a streak of outdoing themselves, turning in their best co-headlining set to date. Recorded straight to analogue tape, the first thing one might notice is the sense of organic balance here: 10 tracks, the first four of which split lead vocals evenly between Robinson and Willis, and the rest deviating from the pattern only for a pair of fully harmonized songs, and the title track, a switch-hitting duet. Even the album’s cover seems to intentionally evoke the long-held golden standard for this kind of record, the couple posing around a (for some reason, invisible) mike like a regular Johnny and June.

But lest all this sound painfully reverent and not very fun, Beautiful Lie balances its tempo, too, breaking up a set of weepers that predominantly lean on Geoff Queen’s immaculate pedal steel with more eclectic fare. “Nobody’s Perfect” is a squelching, soulful blues that doesn’t take heartache lying down: “I ain’t saying I’m done / Until I find someone that’s worth it,” sings Willis. And the Robison’s cover of Ernest Tubb’s “One Dime at a Time” is a proper rave-up, with rolling saloon piano and hard-driving guitars egging the narrator on as he feeds his wages into a consolatory jukebox, drowning out his blues (and ours) with a song. Only about half the material here is original, but you likely haven’t heard the Amazing Rhythm Aces’s song-that-wasn’t-a-single that this album takes for its title track, and in general, the Robison-penned tracks meld impeccably with compositions by friends and forebears. In fact, one of these, “Coming Down,” is probably the highlight of the whole program: a gorgeous guitar filigree leads into a thoughtful and moving meditation on the “summer sun” and “summer storms” of falling in and out of love. “Life and doubt go hand-in-hand” sings Robison, and suddenly, Beautiful Lie starts to sound like something of a concept album, the balance we first noticed being less a means of compositional integrity than a gentle manifestation of a happily married couple’s pragmatism.

Published as part of Rooted & Restless  | Issue 4

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