The Little Willies
The Little Willies began life as nothing more than a casual side project for five high-profile musicians. Richard Julian, Jim Campilongo, Lee Alexander, Dan Rieser and Norah Jones (yes, that Norah Jones) began playing unannounced gigs around New York City in 2003. Specializing in country covers, from vintage outlaw (Kris Kristofferson) to Texas swing (Bob Wills), the project afforded the five a chance to enjoy some after-hours fun in laid-back club settings. Gradually, though, The Little Willies evolved into a full-blown Americana outfit, one getting asked to play bigger and bigger shows, including a benefit concert for the public station WFUV. Jones in particular is a dedicated student of the country-crooner tradition. In the vein of Willie Nelson and the always-underrated Charlie Rich, she has developed a wonderfully woozy style infused with subtle touches of jazz and vintage R&B. The original plan was to record a live set, but the ensemble was having so much fun that it decided a studio album would be more appropriate. Released in 2006, the quintet's self-titled debut features a mix of covers, plus two originals: "Lou Reed" and the touching folk ballad "Roll On."