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Bruce Robison leaves Texas to play his songs

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., October 9, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Bruce Robison the songwriter has done better than Bruce Robison the performer over the years. In fact, he's been able to carve out a living thanks to folks like Tim McGraw, George Strait and the Dixie Chicks covering his songs.

But the long, tall Texan remains interested in forging his own career. He's still releasing albums, on his own these days with his very recent "The New World" being very strong. What Robison has not done a lot of is leave the Lone Star state to tour, so it was quite a rarity for him to return to the Boston area - probably at least half a dozen years since his last visit.

While the crowd was on the small side, Robison's performance was not. He played a good chunk of "The New World," which mixes it up from straight ahead honky tonkers (the title track of the new CD with a lot of pedal steel from Gary Newcomb) to country rockers (California 85) to jazzy/bluesy vibes (Bad Girl Blues).

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was his take on Travelin' Soldier. Robison joked, "It's always been my goal to be a footnote in history." And with this song, he most definitely was. The Dixie Chicks recorded it - he never even knew they were considering the song, which he had previously recorded (the Chicks' Emily Erwin was Robison's brother in law at the time) - and the song about a high schooler's relationship with a soldier going off to Viet Nam and dying shot to number one on Billboard's country song chart. Unfortunately for Robison, that was also on the eve of the second Iraq War and the week that Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made her infamous remark in London about being "ashamed" that President Bush was from Texas. The song got dropped immediately by country radio.

It's a very sad song, of course, given the subject matter and thoughts of the current war. Robison's tender delivery served the song we well getting its emotion across. He also offered his versions of Angry All the Time, a hit for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Wrapped and Desperately, both hits for George Strait. Truth be told, Robison's vocals on these songs weren't as captivating as those who made them hits. Maines adds a forceful level of emotion, while Strait and McGraw simply are better vocalists. But Robison probably isn't complaining because their recordings allow him to do what he wants to do. And it most definitely isn't like he can't get these songs across to effect listeners.

Robison's strength is as a songwriter with the aforementioned songs and good versions of My Brother And Me and the closing uptempo Twelve Bar Blues. It was a treat to see Robison leave his home turf with his fine songs.