Kelly Willis was born in Annandale, Okla., but now resides deep in the heart of Texas. The Austin-based singer/songwriter was signed by MCA Records in 1990 and widely embraced by critics as a torchbearer for "new traditionalism."
Willis played in her first band at age 16, performing with her future husband Mas Palermo. Her raucous vocals proved immediately popular, so much so that the band was renamed Kelly & The Fireballs in her honor. Willis and Palermo relocated to Austin after graduation and established a new band, Radio Ranch. The band impressed Nanci Griffith, who arranged an audition at MCA Records.
The songwriting credits on her albums are always interesting. "Sincerely" was written by Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen, and the Don Was-produced third album included songs co-written with John Leventhal and Paul Kennerley. She recorded a duet with Kevin Welch, "That'll Be Me," and took time out to add background harmonies to Chris Wall's Cowboy Nation. She sang the Paul Kennerley song "I Don't Want To Love You (But I Do)" on the Thelma and Louise movie soundtrack, and appeared as Clarissa Flan in Tim Robbins' political satire Bob Roberts. Willis was dropped by MCA in 1993, and remained quiet until she returned to recording with 1996's Fading Fast. A new album appeared on Rykodisc Records in 1998, and the critics really started noticing her as an important "new" talent. What I Deserve was a beautifully constructed album which veers away from her straight country style. The guitar-rich tracks feature Max Butler and the distinctive tones of Chuck Prophet, with stand-out songs including "Wrapped," "Cradle Of Love" and a superb version of Nick Drake's "Time Has Told Me." The album Easy followed in 2002 with Happy Holidays in 2006, and her most recent album, Translated From Love, in 2007.
Willis is never far from a great song. She is married to prolific songwriter Bruce Robison ("Angry All the Time" and "Travelin' Soldier).
Translated From Love