Bruce Robison | Eleven Stories (Sustain)

Robison has a knack for capturing a situation and the complex emotions that surround it. Unlike so many of his peers who seem to view everything as black or white, he excels in capturing the shades of gray.

Well known by Americana music fans and one of the bigger names (especially inside Texas) within that musical niche, Bruce Robison’s name recognition among mainstream country fans is dwarfed by his extended family, particularly brother Charlie Robison’s wife Emily, a member of the Dixie Chicks, a band known by all but the most hardcore ignorers of music and pop culture. But as one of the best songwriters working in country music today, those same fans are certain to know Robison’s music.

As the writer or co-writer of hits for Tim McGraw, George Strait (“Desperately”), and what Robison likes to describe as “the fastest dropping #1 hit in country music history,” the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier,” Robinson’s songwriting skills are known by even the most casual music listener. But only the most avid music fanatics know that Robison’s originals are as good as—and sometimes far superior to—the versions by the Johnny-come-lately hit makers (compare Robison and his wife, Kelly Willis, on their live duet of “Angry All the Time” with McGraw’s hit if you need convincing).

Robison has a knack for capturing a situation and the complex emotions that surround it. Unlike so many of his peers who seem to view everything as black or white, he excels in capturing the shades of gray. In “All Over But bhe Cryin’,” Robison documents the end of a marriage. Although the tone is obviously sad, an undercurrent of positive thoughts still creeps in, not only fond reminiscences, but maybe a certain relief that a resolution has been reached. Although he sings “it don’t help to know that it ain’t a matter of trying,” maybe deep down it does, if only a little.

“Days Go By” is sung from the viewpoint of a homeless man, and “Don’t Call It Love” from the perspective of a woman who’s unhappy with life, searching for something, although apparently not knowing exactly what it is. Instead she settles for one-night stands, hoping that will do the trick, but knowing that it won’t.

From the songs discussed thus far, it may seem that Robison never writes anything upbeat. That isn’t the case (try “What Would Willie Do” recorded by Gary Allan on his Alright Guy disc, or “Red Letter Day” covered by both Charlie Robison and the Gibson Brothers). However, on this outing, there’s really only one head-bobber, “You Really Let Yourself Go.” Its wordplay with the title (“you really let yourself go/you’ve really gotten over me/time has taken its toll/you aren’t the woman you used to be”) and swinging, up-tempo rhythm provide a sharp contrast to the rest of the disc.

Eleven Stories is a great opportunity for the discerning country music fan to get a preview of Robison’s latest batch of potential hits. Country music’s future couldn’t look better.


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