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
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."
As befits a release on a fledgling indie label, Dualtone's tribute to Johnny Cash celebrates the feistier fringes of the Man in Black's catalog, adding a few mainstream milestones. In what is plainly a labor of love for all concerned, highlights extend from the pop innocence of "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" by Rodney Crowell (formerly married to Johnny's daughter Rosanne) to the folkier strains and husband-and-wife harmonies of "Pack Up Your Sorrows" by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis to the honky-tonk majesty of "I Still Miss Someone" by pianist Earl Poole Ball. Some of the more familiar touchstones don't fare quite as well, with Billy Burnette turning in a tepid "Ring of Fire" and Dale Watson singing in a lower than comfortable register on "I Walk the Line," though James Intveld rises to the challenge of "Folsom Prison Blues." The house band and the largely acoustic arrangements give the 18-cut album more unity than many such projects, as the collection shows why one of the most influential and commercially successful artists in country's history remains an icon of alt-country as well.
In the same vein that Amel Laurrieux launched her solo career after Groove Theory, so has Nicole Willis. Willis' voice is sultry and smooth with an obvious touch of old wave funk. It's no wonder acts like Leftfield have found her perfect for doing vocal work with their electronic backdrop. With her debut solo album, Soul Makeover, Willis sets herself apart from her younger days known as "Buba Diva," and shows that she has the potential to simply be the latter of the two words. Her husband, recognized producer Jimi Tenor, helped produce the album and makes his presence known by his stamp of clean and well put together jazz instrumentals matched with electronic elements.