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Little Willies
For the Good Times

Milking Bull/EMI

For the Good Times, the second effort by the Little Willies, is one of those unexpected pleasures that runs against the current wave of country music’s hybrid of soft rock with a touch of twang. The lineup, which includes Norah Jones and Richard Julian, has little to do with the genre other than a deep affection for it, which makes it a cryin’ shame if the quintet’s splendid and heartfelt presentation was overlooked. Good Times collects a dozen covers, mainly from the country world, from Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Lefty Frizell, and Dolly Parton.

The vocals of Jones and Julian wrap themselves into a pretzel of harmonic convergence. Neither seems out of their element on opening number, “I Worship You,” which bears the warmth of afternoon sunshine and transforms the trucker classic “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” into a drive-by of sultry rockabilly-meets-SoCal-cool. “Lovesick Blues” and the title track are more relatable for those who only know Jones’ pop jazz work, while “Foul Owl on the Prowl” replaces the country setting with something more fitting on an early Tom Waits recording.

The plaintive “Jolene” causes the album to fade out rather than end with a bang but it’s a small price to pay for all that preceded it. The enthusiasm and respect for the source material never overwhelms the members. Not attempting to play outside their field of comfort, they deftly use subtle shifts in the arrangements and sparse instrumentation to help evoke the sensation that the Willies are playing in your living room. And when they’re done, you’re ready to invite them back again.

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