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Married singer/songwriters Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison didn't think they could even have children, but two years ago the ecstatic couple welcomed son Deral into the world. Last March they welcomed two more miracles to the family home in Austin -- twins Benjamin James and Abigail Esme.
"The odds were against us," admits Kelly, who became pregnant both times through in vitro fertilization. "Our doctors were shocked. I have to say that my first reaction was that I threw up!" She laughs. "I was terrified."
Bruce and Kelly's expanding family is the latest chapter in a whirlwind life for the normally low-key couple. Bruce, whose brother is singer/songwriter Charlie Robison -- husband to the Dixie Chicks' Emily Robison -- has recorded six albums, but is better known as the songwriter behind some of country's biggest stars. Tim McGraw recorded his "Angry All the Time" and Lee Ann Womack chose Bruce's "Blame It on Me" for her last album. Most recently, the Dixie Chicks recorded his song "Travelin' Soldier" and George Strait put his stamp on another Bruce song, "Desperately."
After making three albums for MCA in the early '90s and an EP for A&M, Kelly was a critics' darling but a virtual stranger to country radio. She also went the independent route and recorded two CDs for Rykodisc, including her latest, last year's Easy. But the album's deceptive title does not reflect the current state of her life.
"The mornings are kind of crazy," she admits, "getting everybody up, dressed and fed. Luckily during the week we have a nanny who comes. As soon as she walks in the door I breathe a sigh of relief."
"On weekends, we just watch babies all day long," beams Bruce. "It's just a matter of meeting their needs and trying to have a little fun with the 2-year-old and show him a good time, and still take care of the twins.
"It's really all about the kids right now," he continues. "But that's the thing about having twins -- you kind of prepare yourself for that. You just say, 'Hey, I'm not going to worry that much about my career for the first six or eight months of their lives. There's not a whole lot I can do about it.' "
Bruce and Kelly still take turns performing on the road, but now the gigs are a little bit closer to home. And they're still writing and recording new songs.
Last year Kelly went into the studio to cut Easy and welcomed special guests Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski on the album. "It's really cool to get people like that to contribute to something you've recorded. The main reason is, usually they'll let me into their next show free," she says, laughing. "I was on MCA with Vince, and he was always as sweet as you would think he is. And Alison and Dan were wonderful to work with, too."
Kelly shot the video for her current single, "Don't Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!," when she was eight months pregnant. "We tried to shoot it so that the bar was covering up my belly most of the time, so people wouldn't say, 'What's that pregnant woman doing in a bar?' "
As for the single's title, Kelly explains that it's British slang. "Sonny Jim is a common thing to call somebody. It's kind of like you're wagging your finger at somebody. It means, 'Don't fool around or jerk me around -- play straight with me.' "
With the cries of two newborns and an always-curious toddler, the Robison household is quite a bit noisier than the shy couple is used to. "Everything's much more vibrant and alive," notes Kelly. "I've always been a really quiet, very reserved person. People are always telling me to speak up. So it was a real change in my lifestyle with just the one child, and now with the three, it's all different -- and I love it.
"I think secretly most shy people really wish that they could just say what they want to and not be afraid," she says. "This is just wonderful for me. I've gotten a little louder along with them."
Though it's too early to tell if the twins will follow in their parents' footsteps, Deral is already a budding musician. "He's a genius on all levels," declares Deral's proud dad. "He loves to sing. At night time, we sing 'Handyman' by James Taylor. But he calls it 'Hey Girls,' because of the song's opening line."
Kelly picks up the story. "There's one particular song of Bruce's that Deral loves, called 'Blame It on Me,' " she explains. "For a while there, Deral listened to my song 'Easy' all the time. But it broke my heart the day I got in the car and Bruce had been playing Norah Jones ? Deral wanted to hear her more than me!"
Kelly and Bruce are excited about the rest of 2003. They'll be taking a family vacation to the beach, releasing a Christmas album together, finishing out the year doing Christmas shows around Texas -- and taking care of their growing family. As for expanding the family even more, Kelly says that's not in the plan.
"If we had some kind of a lucky accident, it would be a miracle baby, because it's taken God and science and money to have the children we have now," she reveals with a smile. "So if I got pregnant again, it would be the natural way. That would be a real miracle and I would, of course, welcome that.
"But this is perfect. We've got two boys and a girl -- and it's going to be fun!"