Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Little Willies For the Good Times Album Review


It has been six years since The Little Willies released their eponymous first album, and I have not heard a peep from them since. I figured that they must have split up, but I was wrong – Norah Jones’ side project has come back with For the Good Times, a very strong second release.

The Little Willies is made up of five friends who started to get together in 2003 to play classic country and western fare. These folks were already accomplished musicians, and include Jones on vocals and piano, Richard Julian on vocals and guitars, Jim Campilongo on guitar, Lee Alexander on bass and drummer Dan Rieser.

This group just clicks when they get together, and they sound like they have been playing together every day for years. Nobody would argue that Norah has an incredible voice, but Julian sings beautifully with her. Jim C is my guitar hero, and the rhythm section is tighter than tight.

For the Good Times takes the country standbys of loneliness and heartache and runs with them at warp speed. These corny old tunes have made many a grown man cry, and they have now found a new audience to bum out. The whole album is cover tunes, with the exception of “Tommy Rockwood”, but these are not a bunch of silky ballads that showcase Norah’s chops -- there is a lot of honky tonk in here.

The inspiration for this album is the murderer’s row of country music writers and performers: Kris Kristofferson, Ralph Stanley, Willie Nelson (their namesake), Scott Wiseman, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Lefty Frizzell and Loretta Lynn. And a little Quincy Jones for good measure.

This album kicks off with a bang with a rousing version of Ralph Stanley’s “I Worship You”, which is miserable country romance at its best. And the Kris Kristofferson title cut is a great choice as Kris has truly seen the wild side of life, and defines gritty country to me.

My favorite cut has to be Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” where Norah does a more playful version of the slightly scary original version. She also shines on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, and manages to make the song sound a lot less desperate. Her twangy voice is awfully pretty, too.

Julian bravely covers Willie Nelson’s “Permanently Lonely”, and does a fine job. I would hate to try walking in Willie’s footsteps, as he is a god of country music.

There is more fun to be had with “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves”, “If You’ve Got The Money, Honey, I Got The Time” and Johnny Cash’s “Wide Open Road”. There is a reason these songs are standards, as they have withstood the test of time.

Of course Norah and Julian are not as gritty and nasty as their forefathers, and there is a temptation to compare them, but there is no reason to go there. The Little Willies are a tight and talented band that are celebrating these classic tunes and having a good time.

For the Good Times is another great effort by The Little Willies, and you really should add it to your collection.


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