album reviews

Kelly Willis
Translated From Love
Rykodisc (2007)

Alt-country singer Kelly Willis's career is littered with paths not taken: Two bands fizzled out early (Kelly & the Fireballs and Radio Ranch), she was dropped from her major-label recording contract with MCA and "Translated From Love" arrived five years after her last album. Willis's emergence from that hiatus feels less than focused, as "Translated" presents a scattered collection of styles and tempos that never quite jell.

Although Willis's take on Adam Green's "Teddy Boys" is full of rockabilly sass, her vocals aren't quite powerful enough to sound fully committed. Similarly, "I Must Be Lucky" calls for a Lucinda Williams-esque growling twang, which Willis's sugary voice can't quite deliver. She does excel at her slower, sweeter numbers: The loving ballad "Sweet Little One" oozes a compassionate tenderness, and the title track is remarkably expressive despite its brevity. Unfortunately, Willis does not devote enough time to such gems; instead, she pursues such missteps as a cover of Iggy Pop's "Success." Though she is certainly to be commended for the unpredictable song choice, her wailing, organ-riddled version feels incongruous with her roots and abandons the soothing gentleness that is her true talent.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 20 July 2007, Page WE16
.: Translated From Love on