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 Mm.Oo. 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.”
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