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Kelly Willis: Country Music in Translation

Kelly Willis says there are some unexpected songs on her new CD.
Kelly Willis says there are some unexpected songs on her new CD.
Willis waited five years to release her new CD <em>Translated from Love</em>.
Willis waited five years to release her new CD Translated from Love.

If you're wondering why it has been five years since alternative country singer-songwriter Kelly Willis has released an album, she'll tell you she's been busy raising her kids. She's got four children under the age of seven, including a set of twins.

Willis says she felt like she "had something to prove" when recording her new CD Translated from Love, which takes her in some new directions. She talked to Scott Simon about the new disc, and sang a pair of songs from it at member station KUT in Austin, Texas, along with guitarist Andrew Nofziger.

Great Expectations in Nashville

Kelly Willis was barely out of her teens when she landed in Nashville, signed to a big record label.

"I was a very raw talent," Willis says. "I don't think anyone knew what to expect. So that meant everyone had great expectations. In Nashville, of course, they were hoping I'd be a big record-seller."

Although Willis was critically acclaimed, she says she never felt comfortable.

"I was young and being groomed into something I wasn't suited for, Willis recalls. "I guess I was meant to bridge the gap between mainstream country and the alternative world of edgier stuff. I couldn't deliver for them in that regard."

Creative Control

So Willis began directing her own career, which included producing her own records. Easy, released in 2002, was praised by critics and earned her the label "alternative country's golden goddess."

Willis says her new CD started out as an album of cover versions, but after she brought in producer Chuck Prophet, she found herself co-writing half of the album's 12 songs with him.

"The songs that people write themselves are the ones that give their albums their personality, focus and soul," Willis says.

Song Selection

Willis carefully chose most of the disc's non-original songs, but there's one that may come as a surprise for those who have followed Willis' career. With the band members of The Gourds backing her up, she has a romp with the Iggy Pop/David Bowie song "Success." It has an old-fashioned rock sound, and Willis sings freely about the commercial success she has not yet tasted in full.

"Translated from Love," the album's title song, is one with a subtle message, which Willis says is not mushy at all, just powerful.

"I love the advice that this song is dispensing," Willis says. "Take everything that comes your way, and imagine that it's coming from a loving place and filter your response from a loving place, I think that's a wonderful way to live your life. It's the way I try to live mine, although it can be hard to do."

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