Charlie Robison Sets The Perfect Vibe on “High Life”
Older brother Charlie Robison may have never had the big #1 hits that younger brother Bruce did, but they tabulate those types of things far away in Nashville and New York City, and by the time that news trickles down to Texas it seems so trivial to the laid back, easy-feeling mood of the Lone Star State. Being just a year shy of 50, Charlie isn’t looking to make a big splash, set records, or sniff the top of the charts, he’s simply releasing music that he wants to listen to and play, and for the rest of us that get the fortune of peering into his little party, it’s quite entertaining to follow along.
Don’t be spooked too much by the Haight-Ashbury circa 1967 album cover on this record. There’s no acid trips or space jams inside, though in its own way the cover conveys the laid back mood that the music of High Life embodies, and the harkening back to the cowboy hippie vibe of Austin in the mid 70’s that this album evokes. What you do get with High Life is some damn fine Texas country, and interestingly, 9 songs that Charlie Robison didn’t write. Normally it is Charlie doing the writing for himself and others, but Charlie’s decision to leave the pressure behind of penning new material is what allows the party-like, laid-back Saturday night feel of this album to flourish.
Charlie didn’t have to reach very far for the material for High Life. With songs by brother Bruce and sister Robyn, and songs from Texas songwriters like Doug Sahm and Kinky Friedman, High Life fits very nicely within the vibe of what Robison music is all about. Two songs from The Band—“Look Out Cleveland” and the Dylan-penned “When I Paint My Masterpiece”—even seem to slide right into the song selection fairly seamlessly.
High Life is sitting back nice and easy on a bench at Gruene Hall, with the warm Texas air tickling the senses, and a sense that all is right in the world. This album does an amazing job setting the mood of a time and place that you want to be in. Opening track “Brand New Me” written by brother Bruce sets the table for this post-breakup/get-back-to-life record. Doug Sahm’s “Nuevo Laredo” and Ry Cooder’s “The Girls from Texas” help set the party atmosphere by bringing the Mexican border and the album’s sense of place that much closer. Bobby Bare Jr’s “Patty McBride” keeps the party going, and is probably the most solidly rock track on an album that could be offered up as a ideal example of how Texas country can mix in rock influences while still respecting its country roots.
But for my money, the two can’t miss songs of High Life are “Out Of These Blues” and “Monte Carlo,” both written by sister Robyn Ludwick. Can’t say enough about these tracks, the excellence in songwriting they achieve, and Charlie’s ability to interpret their stories perfectly through song. They’re both very similar, and different all the same in the way they convey a feeling of forlornness, but still are imbibed with such a warm sense of memory that a sad story leaves you filled with a happy feeling. The way the chorus of “Monte Carlo” strings you out for so long, hanging in the bubbly moments only the best music can attain, you wish this song could go on forever, and it’s so good it probably could.
Nine songs is all you get with High Life and that’s good and plenty. Charlie Robison does his worst, and leaves you immersed in good vibes before the moments have a chance to stale.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up — 4 1/2 of 5 stars
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October 11, 2013 @ 12:23 pm
Lot of emotion in “outta these blues”. I can’t get enough sad songs in waltz time, powerful stuff. Thanks for the review Trig. I have been a fan of his music ever since I first heard “Back down again”.
TX Music Jim
October 11, 2013 @ 1:21 pm
You know I just flat out love this record. I’ve liked all the previous records from Charlie but this one is something special. Charlie is , in my opinion, best appreciated live. Looking foward to hearing especially Monte Carlo live.
October 11, 2013 @ 4:22 pm
Am I the only one who thinks he sounds like Elvis Costello in the first minute or so of Nuevo Laredo?
Album sounds good,I agree with Monte Carlo and Out Of These Blues being the best.I’ll be getting it
October 13, 2013 @ 3:28 pm
I agree Out of these Blues is a great song, but the rest of the album just doesn’t seem to click for me. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing great. Certainly not on the level of his first 3 albums.
I felt the same way about Beautiful Day, but then when I saw him play the songs live I started to relisten to them and they grew on me–though still not as good as his earlier stuff.
Hopefully he’ll come east to support it.
October 13, 2013 @ 3:37 pm
I’d add that with the exclusion of Chris Knight, most of the Texas people who I used to love in college a decade ago (Robison, Cory Morrow, Pat Green, Roger Creager) have not kept up their quality. It could be that their songs were more for frat parties and it doesn’t work as well when you’re over 40.
Robison was always a deeper songwriter than Creager or Morrow, but my favorite songs by him were always the party songs; and I may be unfairly comparing his against Good Times or My Home Town.
TX Music Jim
October 17, 2013 @ 3:21 pm
I would say all those guys you mentioned have seen a difference in their writing and/or song selection as they’ve gotton a little older. Take their later music on it’s own merit outside the memories from college and I suspect you’ll hear what i’m talking about.
October 13, 2013 @ 11:33 pm
I would say this album has some great songs, but I wouldn’t necessarily grade it a great album. That’s why I graded it as I did. I could see how some people would look at covers of “Look Out Cleveland” and “Wild Man of Borneo” and think “Que?” But “El Camino” and “Out of These Blues” are such amazing, pure Texas country gold, they can’t be denied.
October 13, 2013 @ 4:09 pm
I will be sure to pick up this new offering.
Charlie Robison’s Live at Billy Bob’s is a high energy (and high quality) recording.
I also like Charlie’s combinations with his brother Bruce.
November 10, 2013 @ 4:47 am
Charlie’s music has aged like a fine wine. Yes, his older stuff is golden, but artists mature and evolve just like everyone else. This is Texas music, make no mistake. Although he didn’t write any of the songs, he has left his distinct mark on all of them. Really enjoy his interpretations of the two Band tunes. The Dylan penned, “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” is my personal favorite. With Levon Helm gone, Charlie’s voice is a perfect match for these old classics. Keep ’em coming Charlie. And God Bless Texas!