September 9, 2008
Sometimes labels get in the way of great music. Over the years, Bruce Robison, a singer-songwriter from Bandera, Texas, has acquired more than a few, and many of them have done him a disservice. While literally a “Texas singer-songwriter,” Robison’s range as a songwriter extends far beyond the borders of Texas. And while he’s played on “Americana” stations, his music can’t be pigeonholed into a category. One could just as easily see Robison’s music being played in a Boston coffeehouse or a Chicago blues bar, as in a Texas honky-tonk.
Mainstream country music fans know Robison primarily as the songwriter behind the No. 1 hits “Angry All the Time” (Faith Hill and Tim McGraw), “Travelin’ Soldier” (Dixie Chicks) and “Wrapped” (George Strait). However, a deeper look into his catalog reveals an artist that consistently and fearlessly stretches beyond mainstream country’s narrow confines, and has emerged into a territory all of his own. Robison’s sixth studio album, The New World, continues this trend.
Overall, The New World is slightly harder to get into than some of Robison’s past releases, but upon repeated listens, the album begins to shine. The main reason is Robison’s strong songwriting, which is the key to his success. If you are looking for a quick fix or the cheesy cliché, Robison isn’t your man. His lyrics are unfailingly clever and insightful. For example, check out his twist on the well-worn lament “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” in the slow bluesy “Bad Girl Blues”:
She said “I’ve been a bad girl
I can’t deny
Wish I could have been the bridesmaid
Instead of always the bride”
Robison’s narratives are also—as always—inspired. In “California ’85,” an infectious 70’s flavored tune with an Eagles vibe, a commiserating bartender recommends to his lovelorn patrons a glass of California ’85, as “it goes well with her lies.” And in “Larosse,” Robison digs into the psyche of a down-on-his-luck man attempting to sell off his last companion—an old horse, a little long in the tooth, but ever faithful—for whatever he can get.
The album isn’t without humor, however. For pure fun, don’t miss “Only,” “The New One” and “Twistin’.” “Only” is a fast-paced tongue twister; “The New One” is an ode to that male friend who finds the One about twice a week; and “Twistin’” is a rockabilly song that evokes the same freewheeling glee as the Chubby Checker hit “Let’s Twist Again”—a song it unabashedly borrows from.
The production of the album is somewhat spare, but that only allows the lyrics to shine. And while Robison doesn’t have the well-worn voice of a Willie Nelson, or the deep rich baritone of a Josh Turner, his voice is more than adequate to convey his songs with feeling and purpose.
Listen to “California ’85,” “Echo,” and “The Hammer” from The New World on Bruce’s MySpace page.