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Robison unwraps "Wrapped"

By Robert Wooldridge, July 1998

Though Bruce Robison's initial exposure with his self-released album "Wrapped" did not make a big impact in terms of sales or radio airplay when released in 1996, it did catch the eye of an executive at Sony.

Now with wider distribution and a video on the way, Robison may get some of the attention he deserves.

Robison's music reflects his Bandera, Texas upbringing during the 70's. "It was more like the 50's there before cable television," Robison recalls. "Time was kind of standing still in that little place. I guess you could call it insulated."

Robison, 32, grew up listening largely to Texas music, and he made the move to Austin in 1989. He formed a band and gradually began mixing his own songs into his set list.

Robison says that "songwriting chose me more than I chose it," but the good response to his songs encouraged him to push on.

Robison credits the Austin club scene with furthering his development as a performer. "There's a bunch of clubs where you can actually go and make a few bucks and play original live music all night," says Robison.

In 1996, Robison decided to self-release his album "Wrapped," following the release of his eponymous debut the previous year.

"I'm not a fan of the options of independent record labels on the country music side. There's some really good ones on the rock and roll side, but the country side hasn't really caught up," he observes. "There's not a whole lot in it for the artist."

Robison's gamble paid off. The album sparked enough interest on a regional level to catch the eye of Blake Chancey, vice president of A & R for Sony in Nashville.

Chancey decided to make "Wrapped" the first studio release on Sony's Lucky Dog label, after previously releasing live albums by David Allan Coe and Asleep at the Wheel. The new album is the same as the original with a few songs added.

"I like to write about something that has had an effect on me," Robison says of the songs on "Wrapped." "The ones I like and that stick with me are an experience or a moment in time that I thought was the type of an emotional situation that would be archetypical that a lot of people could relate to."

Robison is comfortable dealing with emotional topics because "there's always that veil - when you get up on stage you really are singing about someone else." Robison particularly admires the writing styles of Hank Williams and Buddy Holly. "Simplicity is the key to country music," he says.

Robison writes songs from both personal experience and as a detached observer. The title song comes from the real experience of running into an ex-girlfriend that he thought he was over, only to realize upon seeing her again that the healing process was not complete.

Another song that comes from Robison's own life is "My Brother and Me," in which Robison relates some of his family history. "The strength of that song is that there is no huge action. It was just a simple portrait of my impression of the people in my family. People with flaws - just a regular family."

Brother Charlie Robison is an Austin-based musician as well, also signed to Lucky Dog. The two duet on the album's opener, "Rayne, Louisiana."

The song "End Like That" is one of regret over the things you do not say. "You can never think of that good exit line," Robison notes. "We all need a screenwriter to come up with a 'Here's looking at you, kid.' Things just end with a whimper."

"Angry All the Time" comes from observation rather than experience. "I think a lot of people from my generation saw divorce from the inside out as a kid. It's the disintegration of a marriage but seeing it from the outside. It's written in the first person, but I haven't actually gone through a failed marriage."

Robison is joined by wife Kelly Willis on the Louvin Brothers "When I Loved You." Robison first heard the song on a record Willis bought while on tour in Europe, and the couple has performed it live on many occasions. "I'm a harmony freak," he admits. "The Louvin Brothers are the best. They're on that level with the Everly Brothers - and they wrote fantastic songs."

Robison likes much of what he sees on the current country music scene. "I have more things to be excited about right now than ever," he says. "There are things trying to happen with Americana radio and a lot of people are making music I really like."

Robison has found a spot on Americana radio, a small amalgam of stations playing country, blues and folk. He has already written songs for his next album and hopes to head back to the studio soon.

Though mainstream country radio has drifted towards pop, Robison feels that "it's all cyclical and makes it easier for you to find a little niche where you can fit in."