Cheater’s Game by Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis

As terrific as Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are on their own, they also make a captivating tandem. The husband-and-wife team’s collaborative album serves up a lucky 13-pack of straight-up country songs, seven of them originals with the remaining contributions coming from the mighty pens of Hayes Carll, Dave Alvin, Robert Earl Keen and others.

Cheater’s Game is quiet and reflective, which is not to suggest “boring,” by any means. It covers a broad spectrum of emotions and styles, from the touching title tune to the snappy “Border Radio” and the aching “Dreamin’,” written by Bruce and Miles Zuniga of Fastball, which might remind a certain generation of The Everly Brothers.

The top cut comes with Hayes Carll’s “Long Way Home,” a finely detailed, compassionate journey through a broken soul.

Bruce and Kelly—one of the truly great female country singers on the planet—let their plaintive, tight harmonies deliver the goods, a refreshing break from the bombast that often substitutes for real emotion in much of the current fare. Is it too early to put this duo up for a Country Music Association award right now? 

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