Kelly Willis | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kelly Willis



Kelly Willis

There must be something in the water down in Austin that gives good country singers bad luck: the city's been home to a number of terrific, individualistic artists who for no good reason have failed to register with the mainstream. Lucinda Williams's stubborn meticulousness, for example, has put her at loggerheads with various producers, and she's managed to get out only two albums in the last decade (though two labels going belly-up probably didn't help). Kelly Willis isn't as stubborn--though she's not as remarkable an artist, either--but after three sturdy country-rock albums for MCA failed to crack the charts she was issued walking papers. For four years she was almost as silent as Williams. Then last year she signed with A&M and released a winning four-song EP called Fading Fast, which showed her moving beyond the tidy and crisply produced songs she'd done for MCA. Writing with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks and performing with members of Son Volt and 16 Horsepower, she delivered grittier, more idiosyncratic tunes with more emotional investment. When her A and R man was axed by the label, Willis wriggled out of her contract, afraid he'd be replaced by someone less sympathetic to her career--a fairly common problem for nonstar artists. She hasn't re-signed with anyone yet, but having finished a string of dates on the Lilith Fair tour she's set to begin work on a new album. For this date she'll probably be previewing new tunes, supported by Amy Tiven on fiddle, ex-True Believer Jon Dee Graham on guitar and pedal steel, and Brian Walsh on bass. Saturday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Kurt Markus.

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