Tag Archives: Bruce Robison

Texas Country

texasStuck in my car stereo over the last couple of weeks has been a CD loaded with tunes from some of my favorite Texas-affiliated artists.  I’m a big fan of the singer-songwriter, old school and raggedy rock styles of country music, and Texas excels at all three. So any time I need a break from the current “Nashville sound,” I like to check in with Texas and see what they’re up to. Invariably, it’s more colorful and interesting.

I can’ t call myself an expert on Texas country by any stretch of the imagination and my education is nowhere remotely near complete (hint: feel free to recommend), but I do sense that it’s a style of music, or perhaps a musical sensibility, that is extremely important to maintain.  Texas artists exude a certain spirit of creativity and sense of individuality that is sorely lacking elsewhere in country music.  And in my opinion, great music and great artists only flourish in settings where both of those are encouraged.

Here’s a sampling of the songs I’m currently listening to:

  • “Dallas,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore
  • “Snowin’ on Raton,” Townes Van Zandt
  • “West Texas Waltz,” Joe Ely
  • “Greenville,” Lucinda Williams
  • “Tortured Tangled Hearts,” Dixie Chicks
  • “Transcendental Blues (Live in Austin),” Steve Earle
  • “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Willie Nelson
  • “Treat Me Like a Saturday Night,” The Flatlanders
  • “Bourbon Legend,” Jason Boland & The Stragglers
  • “Jesus Was a Capricorn,” Kris Kristofferson
  • “Angry All The Time,” Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis
  • “What I Deserve,” Kelly Willis
  • “Old Five and Dimers,” Billie Joe Shaver
  • “Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame,” Sunny Sweeney
  • “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” Waylon Jennings

What are some of your favorite Texas country tunes?

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: George Strait

george-straitWrite this down: George Strait will be recorded in the annals of country music history as the greatest singles artist of all-time. He already ranks third among all artists in terms of chart success, trailing only Eddy Arnold and George Jones. By the dawn of the next decade, he’ll be on top.

Now, I don’t place inordinate value on what radio decides worthy of massive spins, but I do think that Strait’s hit singles are usually much better than the album cuts that aren’t sent to radio. Even though I have all of his albums, only two of the tracks on this list weren’t released as singles.

With more than thirty albums to his credit, I’m sure that there are many songs that readers love which I haven’t included here. Here are my favorite songs by George Strait.

#25
“Blue Clear Sky”
Blue Clear Sky, 1996

This is the type of song that Strait is perfect for. He can elevate a standard uptempo country love song into something special. When he wraps his voice around the hook – “Surprise! Your new love has arrived!” – it’s the sound of weathered experience with a shot of unrestrained joy.

#24
“It Ain’t Cool to Be Crazy About You”
#7, 1986

You can’t be smooth and sophisticated when you’re dealing with a heartbreak. “It ain’t suave or debonair to let you know I care.” In lesser hands, this would be delivered in a straightforward way. But Strait adopts the smooth styling of a pop balladeer throughout this record. If Frank Sinatra had ever made a country record, it would’ve sounded just like this.

#23
“Troubadour”
Troubadour, 2008

Perhaps the secret to Strait’s longevity is that his image of himself hasn’t changed, despite his legendary success. He still sees himself as just getting started. “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song, and I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone.”

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Bruce Robison, The New World

Bruce Robison
The New World

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.

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Bruce Robison, It Came From San Antonio

Bruce Robison
It Came From San Antonio

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Bruce Robison has always been a fantastic singer-songwriter, but he usually takes his time between projects. After last year’s superb Eleven Stories, it’s a wonderful surprise to hear some new material from him so quickly, this time in the form of an excellent seven-song EP, aptly titled It Came From San Antonio.

What distinguishes this set immediately from his earlier work is the more elaborate and experimental production. Usually a Robison collection is a sparse affair, with the focus solely on the lyrics. This time out, he’s more ambitious. See that British flag on the cover of the album? The title cut that kicks off the album is a boogie number that revels in the sound of the first British invasion.

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