The musical careers of husband and wife Robison and Willis have long been intertwined -- how could they not be? -- but to date they've recorded only one album together (the very fine, very seasonal "Happy Holidays"), so expectations and standards are understandably high. Willis is one of the finest, purest singers on the planet and Robison is as smart and honest a country songwriter as you'll ever hear. And so what surprises most about "Cheater's Game" is just how easy-going, modest and understated it is.
With mostly but always finely detailed acoustic backing, the two sing plaintive duets ("We're All the Way"), swinging contemporary honky tonk ("9,999,999 Tears"), bluesy stomps ("But I Do") and regretful ballads ("Waterfall"). They turn in new songs and cover old favorites (a beautifully recut Robison original "Lifeline" and an uptempo version of Dave Alvin's classic "Border Radio"). There are songs by Hayes Carll, Don Williams and Robert Earl Keen, and gorgeous strains of fiddles, dobros, pedal steel and mandolins; but mostly there the timeless voices and timeless instincts of these two longtime companions.
Through it all, Willis and Robison sound happy and comfortable and excited to be making music together. You wouldn't be wrong to call that love, and you also wouldn't be wrong to call it one of the best country albums of the year.
This "Hear and Now" features five tracks from "Cheater's Game," which will be released on February 12, 2013 on Premium Records / Thirty Tigers.