Album Review – The Wonder Women of Country – “Willis, Carper, Leigh”

Melissa Carper, Brennen Leigh, Kelly Willis (photo: Lyza Renee)

There is strength in numbers, and no doubt country music needs heroes to step up and help save the genre, especially when it comes to the representation of strong and talented women. More powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the Wonder Women of Country have formed to help battle the forces of evil in country music, and perhaps to fight crime and save lives whenever called into action as well.

Texas music songwriter and performer Kelly Willis, bass player and throwback marvel Melissa Carper, and country traditionalists/killer guitar player Brennen Leigh have been an occasional tour bill over the last couple of years. But less of a true musical collaboration, they simply played and sang on each other’s songs as a tour package. The troika went off so well—and was so hounded by show attendees for music to take home with them—the Wonder Women of Country was officially formed.

Though they may have initially seen this debut EP as more of a merch play to peddle at live shows, these three women have stumbled onto something that is quietly genius, highly appealing, and woefully underserved in the current country music space. All three of these women have dedicated solo careers, and will continue to do so into the future. But hey, if Boygenius can blow up and win Grammy Awards, why not Willis, Carper, and Leigh?

On paper, this collaboration may not be entirely intuitive. Kelly Willis is more of the modern-era Texas music songwriter, trying to use emotion and rhyme to convey common sentiments. She’s also been signed to major labels and nominated for ACM Awards. On the other hand, Brennen Leigh and Melissa Carper who’ve collaborated together for years are more throwback artists who’ve always been in the independent roots space.

But it’s the skill sets and approaches these three women bring that make The Wonder Women of Country such an interesting and omnivorous affair. Brennen Leigh’s “Fly Ya To Hawaii” is the perfect example of her old soul disposition that employs classic country sounds and delightfully dated lyrical references. It also happens to be a perfect example the Polynesian influences in country music via the steel guitar.

“Another Broken Heart” and “A Thousand Ways” written and sung by Kelly Willis are much more contemporary, looking to speak to people’s everyday struggles and frustrations with love. Melissa Carper’s “Won’t Be Worried Long” is a great tribute to the power of country music to alter mood and perspective to positive results, while also highlighting her attributes as a performer.

The three different approaches result in a lot of variety for Willis, Carper, Leigh, but this variety also comes through in the production and instrumentation, with some songs being more classic, and others being more traditional in a contemporary manner. They also cover John Prine’s “I Have Met My Love Today,” which takes a sort of beatnik poetry approach with the prominent bass and hand drums.

What makes it all gel together like the perfect glazing on a pineapple ring upside down cake? It’s the love and appreciation all three have for each other’s songs, and most importantly, the three-part harmonies that conjoin everything together. Their “oohs!” and yodels on “Fly Ya To Hawaii” will send you straight to country music heaven.

The only issue with this EP is the brevity of the material. But hey, you have to launch the prototype first and have a proof of concept before spending thousands of bucks on a side project. No reason for Willis, Carper, Leigh to get in the way of what these three women are accomplishing on their own already. But hopefully, they will continue to accomplish things together into the future as well.


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