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Charlie Robison steps right up

By Jeffrey B. Remz, March 2001

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The label was intended more of an alternative to the mainstream music released in Nashville. The acts were not expected to have tremendous commercial potential, but would be big on the cred factor.

"He kept on talking about how cool it was going to be. I could do whatever kind of music I wanted, but they'd have all this major label stuff. It was a good decision."

"Step Right Up" continues to find Robison mixing it up musically with country, hard honky tonk, roots, Irish, Tex-Mex, even a tinge of bluegrass. The gritty vocals still are there with a harder edge musically than previous recordings. As usual there are songs about disreputable folks and humorous looks at the underclass as well.

The first single is "I Want You Bad," done by NRBQ a few decades back. "I'm just an NRBQ fan from way back," says Robison. "I probably discovered them when I was 19 or 20. I was just a complete NRBQ freak. Last year, we were on the Lucky Dog tour - me and my brother and Jack (Ingram) - we'd drink a few beers. It was ritual. We'd put on NRBQ. It was such a great song. I thought if I could tweak it a little bit...I love a cover song, but I won't do a cover song written by two Nashville writers who just met at nine in the morning and drank coffee."

Robison describes his effort as "more of a tribute than just a way to make a buck."

While married to one Chick (Emily played banjo on "John O'Reilly," about a guy who runs off with illegal money to California), he sang with another. Natalie Maines duets with Robison on "The Wedding Song."

"It's about everything wonderful in being married to your sweetheart. It's about being terrible getting married to your high school sweetheart. When two people have kind of ambitions that are less than lofty, sometimes it's good to be with someone similar to that. In that way, it's a good thing. In another way, sometimes you need someone to push you a little bit to reach your potential. It's tough. It's one of those social issues that to me are so fascinating."

Robison says it wasn't difficult at all singing the song with a woman who wasn't his wife.

"Nat and I are like family," he says. "It was so fun going into the studio. We knew those people growing up. Going in was very easy was signing those parts as if we were those people."

Natalie's father, Lloyd, produced Robison's first two albums.

Chancey "co-produced" the new disc with Robison, although Robison says "he was there about 1/10 of the time to make sure I wasn't making a Marilyn Manson record."

As for being in a two-musician marriage, Robison says, "We heard horror stories from people when first got married. It worked out unbelievably well. We understood what the other had to do and planned ahead of time so our paths crossed as much as possible. There get to be a point where you miss the other person real bad, but we didn't go that long without seeing each other."

Marrying the musician kind seems to run in the family. Bruce is married to singer Kelly Willis.

And the music in the family may all be made public one day, kind of a country Family Values tour, featuring the Dixie Chicks, the Robison boys and Kelly Willis.

"I guarantee you it will happen in the next two or three years to put it together. It will be a blast. We talk about it all the time. It will be really cool when it happens."

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