$20 – $30

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison 

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Evanston SPACE

1245 Chicago Avenue

Evanston, IL 60202

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DOORS: 9:15pm | SHOW: 10pm

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ABOUT THE ARTIST

Genre: Folk

Kelly Willis

Kelly Willis is Back Being Blue, to take a color-coded cue from the title of her seventh album. It’s a shade she wears well, though long-patient fans might just say: You had us at back. They’ll take a new Willis record in whatever hue it comes, now that it’s been 11 years since her last solo release, 2007’s Translated from Love. The Austin-based singer/songwriter has hardly been MIA in the intervening years, having recorded and toured as part of a duo with Bruce Robison. But she’s setting the duet M.O. aside for do-it-alone mode, at least as far as the spotlight is concerned (Robison hovers just outside it this time as producer). Hers is a solo voice again, but it’s not necessarily sotto voce: This is an album of songs about lonesomeness that also happens to be a cracklingly good time.

Willis wrote six of the 10 tracks on Back Being Blue by herself, the first time she’s penned that big a portion of one of her albums without outside assists. That doesn’t mean she’s gone into deeply confessional territory for her “Blue” period.

Lyrically, “it’s not an extremely personal record,” she says, downright cheerfully. There may be profundity within, but what Willis was really after was a sense of playfulness. “I wanted to make a fun, interesting record that leans on the influences that first inspired me to make music,” she says. “I don’t think of it as even being so much about my vocals as an album about vibe.” Explaining, “The important thing to me was to take these songs and to get them just right musically. And in my mind, I was thinking of where maybe Skeeter Davis meets Rockpile, or Marshall Crenshaw meets the Louvin Brothers.”

Who wouldn’t want to hang out at either of those intersections? Not ignoring the fact that in Willis’ world, as the album title might augur, high times and heartache are inextricably tied, “I guess the songs I write can be more sad than I think they are,” she admits with a laugh. “The lyrics are always sad in country music. I mean, we sometimes wonder why people hire us to do weddings. We’re like, ‘Really? You wanted this? Well, okay!’ But the music, more than ever, I think, is very fun.”

The title song, which brings a slight R&B vibe to her trademark country, was key in setting the tone. “When I wrote ‘Back Being Blue’ I felt like I made a discovery,” she says. “Up until writing that song, my songs were all feeling a little bit wordy and complicated and personal, and they just weren’t clicking. Then I wrote that one, I just felt like, oh!––what I need to do is try to simplify, and write these stories in a way that feels like you’re not quite sure what era they were written in.”

She makes it sound like a fresh epiphany, but some might say that sending the hands of the clock spinning––in a word: timelessness––has always been a hallmark of her career. As the New York Times wrote, “Kelly Willis looks back to country music before Nashville embraced power ballads and cute happily-ever-after songs. She has an old-fashioned country voice with a twang, a breathy quaver, a break or a throaty sob whenever she needs one…Whether she was wishing for comfort, admitting to a bruised heart, yielding to illicit romance or trying to say goodbye, her voice was modest and true, illuminating the delicate tension and pain in every line.” No Depression noted that her music transcends throwback appeal: “There’s no point in being nostalgic for the generic delineations of the past. We are in the present. That’s where Kelly Willis lives. And it’s there that she sings, as keenly and movingly as any singer in the country or pop or rock present.” Rolling Stone zeroed in on the eternality of her tone: “Willis’ Okie soprano still crackles like no other, and her control and phrasing make it more devastating than ever.”

The native Okie-ness Rolling Stone noticed in her honeyed voice is tempered by a whole lot of Texas. Romance and music brought her to Austin while she was in her late teens, fronting a celebrated but shortlived rockabilly band, Radio Ranch. Famed singer/songwriter Nancy Griffith took a shine to her voice and recommended Willis to producer Tony Brown, one of the titans of Nashville country, who signed her to a deal with MCA. Her three major label albums yielded plenty of critical acclaim, with enough media attention that she even found herself representing for Texas on People magazine’s annual “50 most beautiful people” list. But, not for the first or last time, mainstream radio didn’t quite know what to make of a youthful neo-traditionalist who appeared to have been transported from a less trendy era. Read Full Bio Here>>>

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Bruce Robison

Bruce Robison has been making music professionally for decades. He still discusses his craft with so much enthusiasm he sounds almost like a kid raving about superheroes. That infectious energy is evident in every note of his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, as well as his new project, The Next Waltz, a blossoming community of artists, fans and friends gathering both virtually and at his recording studio in Lockhart, just outside of Austin.

In both cases, the point is to celebrate country music’s rich traditions while giving creativity free rein to go where it might, as long as it’s somewhere worth traveling. It’s also about celebrating Robison’s “love of the craft of song.”

“Writing is where it all starts for me,” he explains. “Whether it’s my writing, or songs I want to do with somebody else. I love the mechanics of it; how simple it can be.”

Keeping it simple — and organic — was the guiding principle behind the latest album, a collection of Robison originals, co-writes and covers that capture country’s most beloved stylistic elements: good-time, lighthearted romps (“Rock and Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”; “Paid My Dues”) and wistful, sometimes bittersweet ballads (“Long Time Coming”; “Still Doin’ Time”). But even the Who’s “Squeezebox” — which Robison calls “a great country song by some English dudes” — shows up, in a lively version dressed with cajun fiddle by Warren Hood and acoustic guitar and harmonies by Robison’s wife, Kelly Willis.

Hood is one of a hand-picked crew of regulars tapped for Next Waltz recording sessions with Jerry Jeff Walker, Randy Rogers, Jack Ingram, Rodney Crowell, Willis, Hayes Carll, Turnpike Troubadours, Sunny Sweeney, Reckless Kelly and others. They’ve re-imagined favorites, reinvigorated covers and even crafted new works, which Robison shares with audiences on the Next Waltz website and other platforms. Meanwhile, he’s cultivating a house band he hopes might one day be as revered as Stax Records’ Booker T. & the M.G.’s or Muscle Shoals’ Swampers. The Back Porch Band does it old-school, all analog, cutting songs together in one paneled room where “happy accidents and all kinds of things that just feel real,” including sound bleed, are allowed to occur.

“It really brings the players and their own voices, their own styles, into the music,” says Robison. “That’s the kind of vibe I’m trying to get back to.”

Their familiarity breeds an undeniable cohesiveness; a relaxed rapport that comes through not only in the music, but in the casual between-track chatter and laughter that further conveys the convivial atmosphere Robison envisioned for The Next Waltz.

“The music just ends up showing the way,” Robison says. “I always thought that the music coming together in the studio, and just the way a studio works, was the most fascinating part of recording. I want to let people see how cool this process is, and how much it has to do with country music, and how the kind of music that we make is tied to those traditions.”

Next Waltz sessions are documented on video, along with interviews in which Robison, speaking artist-to-artist, often draws out stories journalists don’t. The content is designed to let fans peek behind the curtain to witness the creative process, not only providing unique insights, but tightening their connection to the proverbial unbroken circle of country music.

The Country Cover Challenge, another Next Waltz facet in which fans help an artist select a cover tune to record, led to the final Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band track, the George Jones hit, “Still Doing Time.”

From the sparse arrangement of Robison’s weary voice over Marty Muse’s steel, Brian Beken’s fiddle and bass, Chip Dolan’s keyboards and Conrad Choucroun’s drums, it builds in intensity; as Dolan adds honky-tonk piano tickles, Robison’s voice climbs higher, till he drills the downand-out drama deep into listeners’ souls.

Robison recruited his pal Jack Ingram for “Paid My Dues,” by Jason Eady and Micky Braun (of Micky & the Motorcars). They turn it into a hilarious honky-tonker in the vein of Jerry Jeff Walker, one of Robison’s (super) heroes.

“When we got Jack in there, it really was just a party,” But it’s balanced by more thoughtful tunes such as the Braun-Robison co-write “Long Time Coming,” a gentle ballad filled with the kind of poetic imagery he attributes to another major influence, Guy Clark. Read Full Bio Here>>>

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FAQs

PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR A DETAILED FAQ.

Are there ID or minimum age requirements to enter the event? Unless otherwise indicated, all of our shows are all ages. Please bring a valid ID.

What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event? There is plenty of meter parking along Dempster St. and Chicago Ave., and meters do not need to be fed after 9pm. SPACE is located one block east of the Dempster Purple Line Stop.

What can I bring into the event? SPACE has a full bar with an exciting array of cocktails and an extensive beer list. While we do not serve food in our venue, customers are welcome to bring in pizza from Union, the restaurant up front. No outside food or beverages are allowed inside.

How can I contact the organizer with any questions? For questions regarding your order, please email boxoffice@evanstonspace.com or call 847.492.8860.

What's the refund policy? All tickets are non-refundable.

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Date and Time

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Evanston SPACE

1245 Chicago Avenue

Evanston, IL 60202

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Refund Policy

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