After sixteen years of marriage, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis will professionally tie the knot Tuesday with the release of Cheater’s Game, their first full-length album together.
Over the years Robison and Willis have each developed their own successful career. He is a sought-after songwriter who has written three number one Billboard Country hits, and Willis has recorded half a dozen albums, establishing herself as a key player in the Americana music movement. The two have occasionally collaborated—Willis has covered Robison’s songs on her albums and they play a popular annual holiday concert together—but they have consciously avoided entangling careers, in part, Robison said, because it’s hard to tour simultaneously with four children.
But Robison said they realized it was silly not to give fans a joint album. For Cheater’s Game, they wrote seven new songs and selected six covers, a process Robison called, “a labor of love.” So to mark the album’s release, and of course, Valentine’s Day, we asked Texas country’s first couple to pick their favorite love songs.
NEIL YOUNG, “HARVEST MOON”
Kelly: Before we got married, we broke up a couple of times. You know how it is when you hear a song that makes you agonize over being away from the other one? This was it. I saw Neil Young do it on “Saturday Night Live” and called Bruce about it. And I truly think it drew us back together.
Bruce: And to me, the story of the song is the line “Because I’m still in love with you.” You wonder a lot when you’re broken up whether you left ‘the one’ behind. It’s about realizing you’re still in love and not denying those feelings.
GEORGE JONES, “HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY”
Kelly: It’s about the endless, timeless love that will outlast us all.
Bruce: I think I fell in love with you when you didn’t understand who died in the song.
Kelly: That’s true. We were at Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar in Bandera dancing, and we were really new together. I looked up at him and said, “She died.” He just started laughing. I realized that I was wrong, and he died. I also realized at that moment, gazing up at him, that I was in love with Bruce. It was a moment that the world stopped.
BRUCE ROBISON, “WRAPPED”
Bruce: It’s cheesy to pick your own song, but I wrote ‘Wrapped’ about Kelly. And every time I sing that song I think of it as the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. But it came, again, from a really sad time. We were broken up. And now I’ve played it at 50 weddings, which is bizarre.
Kelly: Yeah, but to me the chorus is very much a love song; “I thought I was doin’ fine/ ‘Bout to get you off my mind/I see your face and then I’m Wrapped around your pretty little finger again.” It’s about being selflessly in love.
Bruce: It’s a break-up song that transitioned into a love song. The song means something completely different to me now than when I wrote it.
WINGS, “MAYBE I’M AMAZED”
Bruce: We got in a huge fight over this one.
Kelly: Bruce was saying he couldn’t relate to songs that are so loving and affectionate and couldn’t understand how anyone could write one. I got incredibly offended.
Bruce: It’s always been hard for me. I consider myself more from the tradition of super-sad country songs. There are love songs that I really like, but in most of them somebody is in pain or dying. I think as a practical matter, outwardly loving and affectionate love songs are really difficult to sit down and write.
Kelly: And I think it should be very, very easy to write a song about how much you love me.
WILLIE NELSON, “ANGEL FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND”
Bruce: I love that the woman is the beautiful, ethereal thing and the guy is down there below, lucky that the beautiful girl came through his life.
Kelly: To me, it’s about the way you can make someone into an angel. When you fall in love, you’re so enamored of them that you see lights coming around from the back of them.
Bruce: It’s a better version of that sentiment than Conway Twitty’s “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” which is the same story.
Kelly: That song makes me want throw up.
THE STATLER BROTHERS, “I’LL GO TO MY GRAVE LOVING YOU”
Kelly: He’s not going to tell her. She’ll never know. He’ll go to his grave, but he’ll love her forever because she is married to his friend. When we sing this together live, it’s about something different: it’s about each other and how we love each other ‘til death do we part.
Bruce: I suppose it’s a love song because neither one of them is dead. Yet. It’s just a matter of whether she goes to the graveside service or not. Wow. This is the darkest love song list ever. We apologize. We’re sorry. We really are.