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Album Review: The Little Willies' 'For the Good Times'

January 9, 2012 |  6:17 pm

Little Willies

Norah Jones and her country-music-loving buddies have reconvened for another side project that leisurely follows their sprightly 2006 debut. Again they’ve gathered a fairly balanced batch of country classics — including their takes on Kris Kristofferson’s title track, Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues,” Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” — and choice selections from the genre’s deep trove of possibilities.

Their treatment of Red Simpson’s 1967 minor hit “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” turns it into a saucy duet for Jones and guitarist-singer Richard Julian, and the melancholy “Remember Me” is ideal for Jones’ laconic jazz-inflected vocals. Julian also brings out an appealing Lyle Lovett-like quality in his lead vocal on Willie Nelson’s “Permanently Lonely,” but you yearn to hear how Jones, who adds sweet harmonies, would have handled the lead.

Much of the session’s appeal comes from the rootsy, old-school honky-tonk interplay among the band members, also including guitarist Jim Campilongo, who provides the sole original tune (the ultra-twangy instrumental two-step “Tommy Rockwood”), bassist Lee Alexander and drummer Dan Rieser.

But the standout is the song that takes the Little Willies farthest afield from their country base. “Foul Owl on the Prowl,” a witty minor-key tune from Quincy Jones and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, is the kind of easygoing hipster workout Dan Hicks does so well.

The Little Willies

“For the Good Times”

(Milking Bull/EMI)

Two and a half stars (out of four)


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--Randy Lewis