On her debut, this Austin country-rocker sings Texas-steel tunes and roisterous rockers with spirited assurance, but there's a natural tremble in her voice that makes her sound dangerous yet vulnerable. Willis is one of the few country singers with the disarming beauty to become a true sex symbol, and if she's the feminine response to all the hat acts, that's fine.– by Brian Mansfield
Erik Satie's music is timeless and beautiful, but can it stand up to interpretation by downtown New York jazzbos? In the hands of Dan Willis & Velvet Gentlemen the answer is a resounding "YES!" Willis' arrangements are as brilliant as they are varied. There are some straightforward readings (as on most of the Nocturnes) right alongside some pretty inventive and even daring ones. Second Gymnopedie starts as an accordion-sax-drums trio, then slides almost imperceptibly to a guitar-trumpet-drums trio. John Hollenbeck's alway engaging drumwork ties it all together, but the really amazing thing is how much the tune now resembles Miles Davis' "All Blues!"
Charlie Musselwhite continues his prolific four-decade career jumping over to Telarc for his first album of the millennium after spending the '90s recording for Alligator and Virgin. A recap of his formative Memphis roots, Musselwhite receives substantial assistance from guests Robben Ford on guitar (Musselwhite provided Ford with his first gigs when the guitarist was in his late teens), Texas vocalist Kelly Willis, and guitarist/mandolin player Marty Stuart; the last two bring a rootsy, laid back country feel to the album that effectively fuses the swampy C&W, R&B, and blues of Memphis into a cohesive statement. Musselwhite blows unamplified harp on every track, but it's his weathered, understated vocals that infuse these songs with down-home charm. Covers from Jimmy Reed, Los Lobos (the album takes its title from their "One Time One Night"), Ivory Joe Hunter, and Kieran Kane flow beautifully into each other as the artist masterfully blurs the lines between genres.
If sunny front porches remind you of Bruce Willis' bluesy late-'80s turn towards wine cooler jingles, then this installment of the Universal Masters is a must-buy. It includes 1987's Return of Bruno in its entirety, and highlights from the 1989 follow-up If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger. There are also a few neither here nor there tracks, like a ridiculous "Extended 12" Version" of "Respect Yourself."