Album Review: Kelly Willis – ‘What I Deserve’
August 18, 2014
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The indie phase of Kelly Willis’ career got underway with What I Deserve, which was released in February 1999 on the Rykodisc label. Produced by Dave McNair, Norman Kerner and Daniel Presley it appeared six years after her last full-length album, although an EP had appeared in the interim during her brief stint with A&M Records. Not surprisingly, What I Deserve failed to produce any radio hits, but it did manage to become her highest entry up to that time on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, peaking at #30.
Kelly appears to have spent much of her down time between albums writing songs; she had a hand in writing six of What I Deserve‘s thirteen songs, with somewhat mixed results. The title track and “Take Me Down”, which was the album’s first single, are both somewhat dull co-writes with Gary Louris, but “Talk Like That”, her only solo songwriting effort on the disc, is quite good. Kelly’s husband Bruce Robison contributed two efforts, “Not Forgotten You” which became the album’s second single, and “Wrapped”, a nice mid-tempo number that should have been a hit — and eventually was when George Strait covered it and took it #2 in 2007. Not surprisingly, the two Robison numbers are among the album’s best songs, along with Paul Kelly’s “Cradle of Love”, which is my favorite from this album. Also noteworthy is “Fading Fast”, one of two co-writes with John Leventhal, which was the title of her 1996 EP for A&M.
What I Deserve‘s production is tasteful — contemporary, without being overdone or overloud, never drowning out Kelly’s honey vocals. It has just enough country elements to keep country fans happy — namely some very nice steel guitar work by Lloyd Maines. It would have benefited from a few more faster-paced songs, but while not every song is particularly memorable, there enough good moments to recommend it. CD copies are hard to find, but it is available digitally and is worth downloading.