Most modern music tends to be either too gloomy or too calculated, lacking the melodies and unabashed sense of fun that always drives the best pop. The Love Willows – a duo consisting of vocalist Hope Partlow and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Wilson – right that wrong with their infectious Decca debut Hey! Hey!, a collection that deftly fuses classic ‘60s pop structures with a stylish modern twist. Wilson provides the hip retro flair while Partlow is the thoroughly modern woman, writing love songs to her "Shoes!" and demanding attention when she sings "Strut My Stuff" – a dance-pop gem that splits the difference between Gwen Stefani and Katy Perry. Partlow is just as winning when the tempo slows down on the warm "Falling Faster.” Other bands might hint at this bright blast of big hooks and sweetness but no other modern group comes close to capturing how The Love Willows revive and defy classic pop conventions.
It all comes down to chemistry, of course – musical chemistry, and personal chemistry, too. A native of Drummonds, Tennessee, Hope Partlow was a music biz veteran before she even reached the age of 20. Her teenage demo tape won over execs at Virgin Records, who signed her to a record contract at the age of 14. Hope released her first album, Who We Are, in 2005, and when it came time to take the album on the road, Partlow needed a guitarist. In putting together her backing band, Wilson auditioned and got the gig. As they toured with acts like the Jonas Brothers and Jesse McCartney and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, their offbeat personalities gelled. After graduating from high school, she headed down to Atlanta and moved into Ryan’s parents’ house.
As Partlow worked in a hair salon and Wilson did carpentry with his dad, the duo set up shop in an attic space above his parents garage and created The Love Willows (“Willows” a combination of their surnames and “Love” from the vibe of the songs they had written). They continued writing and recording, eventually penning “A Day in My Life” and “Shoes!,” the songs that provide the cornerstone of their debut, Hey! Hey!. These songs were the beginning of an album that alternates between sassy, spirited pop and sweet love songs, sometimes riding an intoxicating Motown beat, sometimes gently swaying to sunshine harmonies.
This versatility highlights The Love Willows build on each other's strengths: Ryan’s upbeat pop instincts are given a tart twang by Hope, who first performing tunes by Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline in a local dancehall when she was still a child. “I sang every Saturday night and that was strictly country and gospel,” she says. Ryan agrees. “Hope puts the country twang and the minor chords in there. She puts the edge in it.” Like his heroes the Beach Boys and The Beatles, Ryan combines a love of simple pop hooks and sophisticated studio savvy, resulting in the unique sound of Hey! Hey!.
It’s this combination of influences that give The Love Willows their own unique sound. The eclectic collection of tracks on Hey! Hey! bears this out, from the sweet duet “I Still Love You,” written by Ryan while Hope was out of town; to the shimmering first single, “Falling Faster,” and the adrenaline jolt of “Shoes!,” Hey! Hey! has a timeless, universal appeal. But The Love Willows are hardly a retro group; they belong to now, as they prove on the sassy, stylish “Strut My Stuff” with its slinky dance groove.
The contagious charm of the album is captured in The Love Willows’ animated live shows, with Hope strutting her stuff in front of the audience while Ryan bangs out his brightly colored chords on guitar.