Lone Star twangster Charlie Robison is a Texas boy who's had his ups and downs... He and his brother, songwriter Bruce Robison, hit the Austin alt-country scene in the late 1980s, playing in several local bands before setting out on their own solo trajectories... Bruce scored some hits in Nashville, and while Charlie stuck to the raspier side of the twang scene, he also gained entry into the Music City elite, with his marriage to Emily Erwin, of the Dixie Chicks. (Their sister, Robyn Ludwick, has also recorded some tasty alt-country... talk about a talented family!) Anyway, here's a quick look at Charlie Robison's solo work... a hefty dose of pure Texas twang.


Charlie Robison "Bandera" (Vireo, 1995)
A great album of tuneful, tongue-in-cheek, wiseass honkytonk songs, chock full of great melodies and amiably snide humor. Thematically and vocally, this early, long-haired incarnation of Charlie Robison reminds me of what John Prine might have been like if he'd followed his hard country inclinations a bit further, instead of going the folkie route. At any rate, Bruce's brother has definitely got the goods, and this disc has one good song after another... An impressive debut album, well worth tracking down.

Charlie Robison "Life Of The Party" (Sony-Lucky Dog, 1998)
Robison takes the hard-partying ethos of Jerry Jeff and Joe Ely to its inexorable, unenviable conclusion. This is one of the seamiest collections of drinkin' songs you're ever likely to hear, climaxing in "You're Not The Best," in which our ne'er-do-well narrator basically says, "baby, I wish there was a bag over your head..." These songs are awfully clever, but kinda depressing, while the music is pure, driving bar-band honkytonk. Another winner, but with a real mean streak to it.

Charlie Robison/Jack Ingram/Bruce Robison "Unleashed: Live" (Sony-Lucky Dog, 2000)
A nice live album which opens with several Bruce Robison tracks, then moves on to brother Charlie and his tales of excess and woe, then onto the harsher-toned, electrified Mr. Ingram. Bruce Robison's stuff is the most traditional sounding and pleasant, particularly on a duet with Charlie, and another sung with Kelly Willis (a different-sounding version of "Angry All The Time"). It's nice, too, to hear how Charlie connects to his jovial following of would-be rowdies; Ingram is perhaps the least appealing of the trio -- his work seems a bit blunt and overly sarcastic. A nice snapshot of these three like-minded fellers in an informal live setting.

Charlie Robison "Step Right Up" (Sony-Lucky Dog, 2001)
Making his best pitch as part of the outlaw-poet lineup, Robinson's style is just a little too showy and self-conciously craftsmanlike for my taste... His band's pretty solid -- there's a strong undercurrent of Dave Edmunds/Rockpile-like bar band bounce, and the tone is pure, well-produced honkytonk pop -- but I personally just don't much go for the whole country profundity thing, and the lyrics seem wildly over-written. I'm sure there's plenty on here to hold lots of folks' attention... but I found mine wandering. The rambling, absurdist tall-tale, "One In A Million," is kind of fun, in a Pecos Bill/Paul Bunyan kinda way. If you're looking for an alternative to the synths and strings of Nashville, this certainly could fill the bill.

Charlie Robison "Live" (Sony-Lucky Dog, 2003)

Charlie Robison "Good Times" (Dualtone, 2004)
A likeable, fun set of acoustic outlaw country, full of familiar themes that feel like tall tales told from a Texas porch in the still-hot twilight of a hot dusty day. Which is to say, that while this isn't an all-out hellraising set like Robison's last few albums, it might just be the best record he's done to date. At least, I liked it. You probably will, too.

Charlie Robison "Beautiful Day" (Dualtone, 2009)
(Produced by Charlie Robison)

I'd imagine that Robison's highly-public divorce from Emily Erwin, of the Dixie Chicks, must have been a pretty hard blow, and certainly there is an undercurrent of ruefulness throughout this album, although it is often masked by a wiseass, wisecracking sneer... The songs don't seem overtly autobiographical, but there is a manic energy in many songs where one might imagine Robison is channeling at least some of whatever tensions led to their breakup. Regardless, Robison is focussed and alive on this record, and while some of the more aggressive tough-guy, party-animal rock tunes don't appeal to me, other, mellower songs are real winners. The album opens on a curious note, with a bright, 1960s-ish sunshine pop song (the irony-drenched title track) and moves into a clunky rock number. But then come a couple of Robert Earl Keen-ish folk-rock numbers ("Down Again" and "Nothin' Better To Do") which open the door for the subtle, sublime "Reconsider," with its chiming pedal steel, ringing chorus and fine (multi-tracked) harmony vocals. The rest of the record continues this balancing act, between muscle-flexing and melody, and ends with the perfect synthesis: a mournful, evocative cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Racing In The Street." This is a fine album, well-crafted and concise, showing Robison's strengths and range, and while not every song will appeal to every listener, it's certainly an affirmation of Robison's own creative arc.


Hick Music Index

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