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Charlie Robison goes for the good times

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2004

Can it be true that at age 40 Charlie Robison is no longer the life of the party? The Texan is sleeping off a two-week road trip promoting yet another fine album, "Good Times," after hitting radio stations and shows. In other words, the guy needs some rest after being up from early morning for radio station visits until two or three the next morning, a situation that "has taken its toll," says Robison in an interview from his ranch in Medina, Texas.

But Robison must make the push. It's been three long years since Robison released his last album, and a lot has changed for Robison in the interim, both personally and professionally.

When asked if the period between "Good Times" and 2001's "Step Right Up" seemed long to him," Robison says, "It really did. On stage, I was thinking if I don't get some new songs up there, I'm going to shoot myself. I'm playing these same songs every night. Especially for folks (who put) as much time on the road as I do, that's a big motivator to record new songs."

The time off did not seem to affect Robison's breakneck speed in the studio though. Going in with producer Lloyd Maines, Robison required all of a week to record 11 songs.

"We share the same brain in the studio," says Robison. "There's not much arguing. We expedited things pretty well."

Robison says he picked up on one of the key differences between the albums by reading reviews. "People give me a perspective with reviews that I haven't thought of," he says. "I feel I've written a whole lot more from the first person. (On) the other records, I kind of veiled the things I've written about myself and put it in the third person. It's more transparent of where I am in my life and who I am in my life."

"When your life changes so much - you get married, you settle down and have a kid, you change the way you think of things even though you don't realize it. That kind of creeps in there."

"I actually thought about it," says Robison of the changes. "I was just...wondering when it's written and when it's done, in hindsight when I look back, how much of those things am I going to see in the finished product?"

"I wasn't really consciously doing it at the time," he says. "I was curious in hindsight how I had changed musically because you never know until the record's done."

With a lot of good time songs on past albums, often about down and outers, Robison says they "didn't give much insight into the person - I liked to goof off...It kind of seemed like this was the record I was practicing to make with the other ones."

While "Good Times" focuses on the down and outers and also lives up to is title, Robison does get more personal.

The tender "Photograph" is a generational song about remembering his grandfather, divorced parents and now his own family with the tag line "though I don't remember it, it still makes me laugh/When I see us together in a photograph."

"It's meant to leave yourself with the thought that for your grandkids, you're going to be just a photograph some day. It's a tribute song, but it's also a song make you ponder mortality a little bit."

But don't think Robison went totally serious. The bluesy "Loves Means Never Having to Say You're Hungry" could be interpreted as about his wife's good cooking with lines like "Well you know I love her biscuits/you know I love her buns/You know I'll eat her brisket/I ain't ever had more fun" or as Robison says on the phone about the lyrics, "Read it again."

Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines, daughter of Lloyd, sang backing vocals on Keith Gattis' "El Cerrito Place." Robison wasn't necessarily looking for her contribution, though it wasn't the first time. She did an exquisite duet with Robison on "The Wedding Song" last time out.

Maines hung at the studio this time around.

"In looking at a very musical family and friends, my wife (Emily of the Chicks), Martie (his sister in law and fellow Chick), Kelly (Willis, wife of his musician brother Bruce) and Lloyd, if they have an idea about something, my ears are wide open. The song was finished, and she took it home with her. She knows she has my trust. She went in there and did the harmony part without asking me. I knew it was going to be fine. I trusted her."

"She was in and out while Lloyd and I were mixing. Her husband is one of my best friends. We were just kind of hanging out when we were mixing. She got (doing background vocals) in her head."

One thing very different for Robison was that he actually enjoyed the recording process, something he describes typically "as arduous for me. With this record, I didn't want it to end. I had a good time making it. It was really fun. Everything really felt in place."

"Everything went straight down to tape," he says of the actual recording. "Everything was first, second or third takes."

The new album is a bit less bright and more toned down from "Step Right Up." Robison says he thinks this album also is different because it is more groove oriented.

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