Country, soul and girl group blossom under Roseâ€™s command
With her friend and mentor Raul Malo co-producing, and a studio band drawn from the Mavericks, Jayhawks and Asleep at the Wheel, Canadian-born, Austin-based Whitney Rose doubles up on the retro country pop highlighted on 2015â€™s Heartbreaker of the Year. Across nine originals, and covers of â€œTied to the Wheelâ€ and â€œYouâ€™re a Mess,â€ Rose plugs into â€˜70s country vibes, girl group sounds and, on â€œCanâ€™t Stop Shakinâ€™,â€ a deep soul groove. Thereâ€™s an echo of Danny Oâ€™Keefeâ€™s â€œGoodtime Charlieâ€™s Got the Bluesâ€ in the downbeat mood of â€œYou Never Cross My Mind,â€ and the rolling rhythm of the bittersweet â€œTruckerâ€™s Funeralâ€ suggests John Hartfordâ€™s â€œGentle on My Mind.â€
The genre-bending Mavericks launch their own label with the release of a live album that complements the earlier Itâ€™s Now! Itâ€™s Live! and Live in Austin Texas. The new set shows how the bandâ€™s stage act has continued to grow in power, and by cherry-picking performances from their 2015 Mono Mundo tour, the set makes every song a highlight performance. Since reuniting four years ago, there have been lineup changes (including the dismissal of founding member Robert Reynolds) and new studio recordings, but itâ€™s the stage show that has remained the groupâ€™s focal point. This generous 78-minute disc shows the core four-piece band, augmented by players on bass, sax, trumpet and accordion, to be as flexible as the Mavericksâ€™ catalog. And rather than a nostalgic rehash of earlier glories, the band keeps their set fresh with material from 2013â€™s In Time and 2015â€™s Mono.
This married pair has appeared together on stage and on one another’s solo releases, but it’s only in the past few years they’ve focused on working regularly as a duo. Their duets on tribute albums, and what at the time seemed a one-off project in 2003’s Happy Holidays (and its 2006 expansion), turned into a deeper collaboration with 2012’s Cheater’s Game, live shows and now a second album. As on their previous releases, they trade leads, backing and harmony vocals, supporting one another with a familiarity that makes duets more than the sum of their parts. Robison contributes a pair of original songs, Willis one, and they fill out the track list with endearingly selected covers.
The album opens with “Departing Louisiana,” a biographical song whose emotional details suggest a Robison original, but it’s actually from the pen of his sister, Robyn Ludwick. When you count in their brother Charlie, it’s clear that songwriting runs in the family. Robison’s “Carousel” evinces the resigned sadness of Roger Miller’s “Husbands and Wives,” but the mood is turned around by the rolling beat and hopeful longing of Willis’ “Lonely for You.” The album’s covers include Buddy Mize’s “Hangin’ On,” sung with the same enthralled powerlessness as the Gosdin Brothers’ original, and a funky take on Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley PTA” that’s become a staple of Willis’ live act.