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The Little Willies

• The Little Willies

The Little Willies are the universal antidote. Classic Country and a few great originals served up by notorious East Village bohemians. It's a musical party for a bunch of very busy talented friends, an act that began as a Willie Nelson cover band.

Vocalists Norah Jones and Richard Julian really make the songs happen, on their own and in harmony. Like all the players involved, the takes sound so relaxed; that's literally what makes the record special, aside from being a hotbed of talent. The demented genius of Jim Campilongo's guitar is unequalled, anywhere. (We reviewed his CD American Hips here.) We have marveled at his teleosity at the Living Room in the Village in NYC on several occasions, where most of the members can be found on select nights. Norah Jones shows what a strong stylist she is on piano, and sounds very happy to be a band member instead of the boss. (The woman rocks on "Nightlife," completely.) Bassist Lee Alexander is very lively and up front on this recording; he also wrote one and co-wrote another of the four songs that are not classic covers. Guitarist Richard Julian shows up on three of those four, and his fingerstyle prowess figures in a funky manner throughout the proceedings. (Our recent interview with Richard includes the fateful tale of how he and his friend Norah first met up in TX some years back.) Dan Reiser on the drums is top notch, which is par for the course in his case. Keyboard ringer Jon Dryden doesn't know how not to shine, and he satisfies on a handful of cuts.

And the cuts are mighty, by Kristofferson, Townes, Willie, Fred Rose, Harlan Howard, Hank Sr., and others. I was tickled to see the Jimmy Driftwood classic turn up, "The Tennessee Stud." Mighty fine city slicker version, too. But the originals stand right up. "Easy as the Rain," by the two guitarists, is a poignant love story ballad. Julian wrote "It's Not You, It's Me" with Ashley Monroe, a love song with a twist, or maybe just a twisted love song. Lee Alexander's solo composition, "Roll On," is one of my favorites, one of the touching serious spots in the record. "Lou Reed" is a whacked romp about seeing Lou Reed cow tippin'--it comes off because they have a lot of fun with it.

And that's the other surprising vibe of the Little Willies, it's really a fun record. (You know how sometimes you hear a record that sounds like it was more fun to make than it is to listen to? It's not one of those.) It's a gas hearing Norah Jones singing Willie Nelson's "I Gotta Get Drunk,"--hell, I wanna get drunk, too. Pick up this record, and one for a friend. Cheers. • Frank Goodman

We'll give you The Little Willies if you're one of the first two to answer this question correctly:

In 1960, Willie Nelson's first national success as a writer was actually on a tune performed by Claude Gray on D Records that he'd already sold to Paul Buskirk. What was the name of that song? Send your answer & mailing address here.

return to covers    listen to clips     buy it here, here, or here

thelittlewillies.com     our interview with richard julian

jimcampilongo.com      norahjones.com

richardjulian.com      billphelps.com

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