Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis perform December 5 at Sons of Hermann Hall.
Well-regarded Texans Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis have given themselves an early Christmas present: Happy Holidays, a seven-song EP of seasonal songs the singing-and-songwriting husband and wife recorded together and are selling at shows and through their respective Web sites. Since the Lifetime network keeps reminding me to be forgiving between episodes of The Golden Girls, I gave Holidays a couple of spins, and you know what? I can officially declare it the yuletide disc to beat this year--yep, better even than Harry for the Holidays, which I burned copies of for that unique circle of friends and co-workers on whom I've vowed never to spend more than 67 cents each. Surprisingly, for a hardworking married couple squandering quality time in the studio, Robison and Willis succeed in that rarest of Christmas-music pursuits: subtlety. Willis somehow strips "Santa Baby" of Eartha Kitt's spike-heeled swagger, purring like a slightly horny PTA member, while Robison unfurls muted jazz leads on eggnog electric guitar; she imbues decorous Episcopalian favorite "In the Bleak Midwinter" with no horniness at all; she and Robison wink at each other through a chastely swinging "Baby, It's Cold Outside," in which Bruce says Kelly's name a whole lot, and that's cute. Dip your toe in this mistletoe; it's plenty warm.