One of the freshest country albums of the year comes not out of Nashville, but rather New York, from a sporadic band with the unlikely (and somewhat suggestive) moniker of the Little Willies. At times, the fivesome (named in homage to Willie Nelson) hearkens to the great historic western-swing bands--crack, loose-limbed musicians fronted by a hypnotically sublime girl singer. If that sleepy female voice (and her distinctive piano) sounds astonishingly like Norah Jones, that's because it is
Jones, exploring the country side of the blues. The group--rounded out by Lee Alexander (bass), Jim Campilongo (electric guitar), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals), and Dan Rieser (drums)--formed in 2003 to play the Living Room on New York's Lower East Side and just do the classic American music they grew up enjoying. That's why their low-key labor of love, recorded without commercial expectations and promoted under the radar, includes both originals (including the achingly sweet "Easy as the Rain") and covers of Hank Williams's "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"; Nelson's "I Gotta Get Drunk" and "Nightlife"; Kris Kristofferson's "Best of All Possible Worlds"; Townes Van Zandt's "No Place to Fall"; and Leiber & Stoller's "Love Me" (made great by Elvis Presley). Throughout, the record maintains the slightly inebriated, bar-band feel of a live club performance, especially on "Lou Reed," a very funny saga of a cow-tipping incident possibly involving the dark rocker. This is an extraordinary record, not only for its musicianship, but for the infectious joy and exuberance of performers who remember just how fun it is to play music from the inside out. --Alanna Nash
Got the Willies?
The Little Willies are Lee Alexander (bass), Jim Campilongo (electric guitar), Norah Jones (piano, vocals), Richard Julian (guitar, vocals) and Dan Rieser (drums). The album is full of covers and originals, from the revved-up western swing of Fred Rose's 'Roly Poly' and Willie Nelson's 'I Gotta Get Drunk' to the cutting wit of Kris Kristofferson's 'Best Of All Possible Worlds'; from the poignancy of Townes Van Zandt's 'No Place To Fall' to the cosmic absurdity of their own 'Lou Reed'. Blue Note. 2006.