Kelly Willis started out singing rockabilly at age 16, and despite growing into a Texas-style honky-tonk sound, she retains the feisty twang of that initial genre. But even with the strong conviction in her delivery, she's made some frustratingly erratic albums in the past, coming off too roots-conscious (and rockin') for the country mainstream yet too country for the Americana crowd.
Thanks to the sympathetic production of local auteur Chuck Prophet, Willis' latest is her most consistently well-crafted album. Instead of pushing her in a specific direction, Prophet lets Willis' affinities for country and rock intertwine — her sumptuous vocals have never sounded better, more confident, or been applied to as fine a selection of songs. "Stone's Throw Away" and "Losing You" are classic country ballads in the Tammy Wynette/Dolly Parton vein, and in a perfect world the wistful yet idealistic jangle-rocker "The More That I'm Around You" would reach the Top 20. Willis also tosses in some curve balls — note the girl-group echoes within "Don't Know Why" and the lighthearted swagger she brings to Iggy Pop's "Success." The cheesy Cars-goes-rockabilly of "Teddy Boys" is the only misstep on an otherwise near-perfect set.