Texas country icon Bruce Robison gets raw on long-awaited new solo album
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Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
It took nearly a decade, but Texas country star Bruce Robison finally found inspiration for a new solo album — by digging into his past.
Robison will return to Amarillo for a 10 p.m. May 18 show at Hoots Pub, 2424 Hobbs Road, his first show in town in several years. Cover is $10.
For Bruce Robison & The Back Porch Band, which was released in April, Robison went fully analog to capture the kind of sound he found in the albums he loved as a child. Though he'd released a pair of duets albums (Cheater's Game in 2013 and Our Year in 2014) with wife Kelly Willis, he hadn't done a solo project since 2008's The New World. Though he'd had plenty of success as a songwriter for others (his tracks "Travelin' Soldier," "Wrapped" and "Angry All the Time" were cut by The Dixie Chicks, George Strait and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, respectively, he couldn't find anything to provide the spark for a full solo album.
"At that point, I was looking for something new that would excite me, and it really took me that long to get together what I wanted to do," Robison said. "I didn't just want to make a record because it was time to make a record and because, frankly, the records that had such an effect on me — like ¡Viva Terlingua! and Red Headed Stranger had such a raw feeling that I felt was lacking.
"I wanted to feel as excited about it as when I used to when I was first starting in 1991," Robison said.
The result is a laid-back, acoustic and surprisingly short (only 34 minutes) romp, refreshingly lacking any digital polish. It was recorded in Robison's own, hand-made studio northeast of Lockhart, where he also records his web series The Next Waltz, an interview and performance show featuring some of his favorite musicians.
"To record digitally, then the way they put it all together ... how everything is chopped up and separated ... as opposed to this way, this real collaboration, wher eyou have very few ways to fix it, no digital ways to tune anything, is more similar to going to see somebody in a live show," Robison said. "It's so different that it's kind of hard for folks today to understand. It is different to my ears, which is what I was looking for."
To find the right nine tracks for the album, Robison cut about 30 tunes.
"I wasn't able to know which songs were going to work in this way and which weren't" until he recorded them, he said. "A lot had to do with the players because in this way of recording, the players bring so much to it and their creativity really ends up coloring everything.
"The songs really showed the way, and the players really showed the way," he said. "Kind of like what happened with the two records I made with Kelly, I got to be part of the band rather than being the dictator. Being part of the music and letting the music show the way was really a difference for me that I knew I really wanted to do."
Among the songs that made the cut is "Paid My Dues," a rollicking duet with fellow Texas country star Jack Ingram written by Ingram, Jason Eady and Micky Braun. It's a song about the guilty morning-after feeling of a musician whose head is still spinning from the night before.
"Me and Jack are friends and fans going back so long," Robison said. "I love his whole vibe so much that I knew we didn't want to get together and do a ballad. I wanted it to be as much fun as hanging out with Jack is whenever I get to do it. He is an off-the-hook madman, and that is pretty much what I wish I was sometimes, but I'm living a life where we're raising our kids."
The album also features a country take on The Who's "Squeezebox," with Cajun fiddle accents by the great Warren Hood.
"Man, a big part of this video series I'm doing is telling stories of how all this music connects, and 'Squeezebox' is a good example of how music can cross genres," Robison said. "I used to play that song in dance halls and honkytonks, and everybody would dance. I love that this is a country song written by these guys from England that is so elemental.
"It isn't contained by any genre," he continued. "To me, the brilliance of it just takes away any preconceptions about it."
Robison — who played basketball for a couple of years at then-West Texas State University in the late 1980s — said age also was a factor in finding the right tone for the new album, citing his 50th birthday last June.
"It really was where I looked at 50 and said how lucky I was at having this job, to be able to go out and be part of this amazing state we have, with so many places to play and so many people coming out and hearing you play original music," Robison said. "I think we should all wake up every day and know this is the best place in the world to play original music.
"I don't know how in the world I got so lucky."