In an interview with the Austin Chronicle, Bruce Robison revealed he only recorded albums as a way to shop his songs to other artists. That somehow implies that he really didn’t intend for himself to be the premier interpreter of his own works.
It shouldn’t, however, stop anyone from finding Wrapped, his 1998 major label debut with Lucky Dog/Sony, or his latest album, Country Sunshine, released on his own label Boar’s Nest.
Country Sunshine finds Robison’s getting back to the heart of his talent — exceptional songwriting. Unlike the scattered and rather brief Long Way Home From Anywhere, Sunshine works as an album while still managing to stretch Robison’s core country and western foundation.
Credit some of that cohesion to the vocal contributions to wife Kelly Willis. Forget the George Jones/Tammy Wynette comparrisons — Robison and Willis are the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris of today. (And it sucks to think I’m not the first person to arrive at this conclusion.)
Willis provides a velvety sweet foil to Robison’s earnest drawl. Her presence subconsciously strings together the divergent styles Robison employs throughout Sunshine.
“Bed of Ashes” calls to mind the Parsons/Harris masterpiece “Love Hurts”, while “Friendless Marriage” updates the dynamic Robison forged on “Angry All the Time”, now a hit for husband-and-wife country úber-duo Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Robison must have caught a few Asylum Street Spankers and 8 1/2 Souvenirs gigs since recording his last album. “Devil May Care” has a country-meets-swing vibe totally at home with the folks in both bands. It also helps that former Spanker Eamon McLaughlin contributes his clean fiddle-playing on the track.
Then there’s “What Would Willie Do”, the sure-fire favorite among reviewers. When Robison delivers the line about “taking a deep breath, then letting it go”, it’s a classic case of comedy and music co-mingling without resorting to obvious gags.
The rest of the album reads like that old joke about what happens when you play a country record backward. (Answer: Your wife comes back to you, and your pick-up truck gets fixed.)
Lyrically, Robison’s songs on Country Sunshine paint well within the lines of acceptable country music themes — broken hearts, good ol’ boys, that sort of thing.
Musically, his songs traffic in keeper melodies that seep deeper into a person’s consciousness with each repeated listen.