On my first listen through the Little Willies’ “For the Good Times,” I hadn’t carefully read through the album’s track listing. So, when the last track was a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” I lost my composure. Did I weep muffled sobs of joy through a manic grin? If only my walls could talk. Like most people who enjoy listening to things with their ears, I believe that “Jolene” is one of the best songs ever. The fact that everyone from Jack White to Laura Marling to “Glee” has covered it would seem to bolster my claim. A “Jolene” cover by this Norah Jones-fronted country act was the gift I never knew I wanted.
In their second album of covers, the Little Willies tackle songs by classic country luminaries such as Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The group’s self-titled debut was a heck of a lot of fun, and “For the Good Times” ups the ante. If the average Norah Jones album sounds like the inside of a Starbucks, a Little Willies album evokes the ambience of a highway-side Cracker Barrel.
I know, I know. Hold on.
If you’ve ever had a Cracker Barrel biscuit, you know that’s not a disparaging remark. “For the Good Times” takes the sounds of a Southern yesteryear and fully commits to faithful tribute performances. It goes without saying that a professionally produced album in 2010 would polish a more modern gleam on the standbys, and that somehow takes a little of the old-school, antique-shop charm out of the songs. That’s why “For the Good Times” sounds more like Cracker Barrel than the Broken Spoke: It’s earnest, joyful and admiring. It’s not your grandma’s cooking, but it tastes pretty great on its own.
Opening track “I Worship You” and “Wide Open Road” best embody the spirit of Western swing revival that the Little Willies specialize in, while slower cuts like the title track take full advantage of having Norah Jones in your wagon train. Jones’ steamy, velvet vocals keep every song anchored in subtlety — this is not quite a hootenanny.
“For the Good Times” hits notes of wonder and wistfulness pretty equally. It’s perfect music for a biscuit run.
(1) “I Worship You”