Step Right Up
First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2002, Volume 9, #2
Written by T.J. Simon
Charlie Robison is a Frankenstein's monster of great influences. He's got the songwriting talent of Todd Snider and Steve Earle, the honky-tonk sensibility of both NRBQ and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and a voice comparable to those of John Prine and John Hiatt. All of this talent is pulled together in a tight package called Step Right Up, Robison's nearly-perfect recent release.
Robison is an immensely gifted mainstream country performer from Texas who runs with a capable crowd. His wife is Emily Robison (Dixie Chicks), and his brother is oft-covered singer-songwriter Bruce Robison (who also happens to be married to Kelly Willis). In other words, the jam session after Mama Robison's Thanksgiving dinner might just be the country music event of the year.
Alt-country purists may be put off by this slickly-produced, Nashville-ready release, but a closer examination will reveal Step Right Up to be an album of great depth, musicianship, and influences. After all, this disc has not one, but two, covers of songs originally recorded by the legendary NRBQ: I Want You Bad and the raucous It Comes to Me Naturally — of which the latter has also been recorded by fellow Texans The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Robison also records Sweet Inspiration by The Hollisters, making it sound a lot like a classic John Prine number.
The rest of Step Right Up is full of original material written by Robison and his brother Bruce and includes a sweet country waltz duet with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines (The Wedding Song). Robison is at his best, however, when his songs tell a story. Such is the case with Desperate Times, the tale of a soldier turned San Antonio cop turned bank robber, which was originally recorded on Robison's 1995 indie debut Bandera. Likewise, John O'Reilly — a Pogues-like number — is about an Irish immigrant making a living with his fists. The only dud on the whole album is the final track Life of the Party — a faux, bawdy novelty song reminiscent of the garbage they taught you at summer camp in the name of outrageous fun.
Fans of Texas country rock are certain to enjoy Step Right Up. From the barn burning opening track Right Man for the Job to the Cajun stomp of One in a Million, Robison proves that indeed it is possible to successfully straddle the fence between insurgent country talent and radio country packaging.
Step Right Up is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box