|There are two places Maverick singing/songwriting/storytelling Texan Charlie Robison is most comfortable: his family ranch in Bandera deep in the Texas hill country and on any stage performing his raucous, cross-cut brand of rockin, stompin country with an in-your-face orneriness that has both set him apart from the crowd and made him something of a lightning rod. And one of his favorite haunts is the famed Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, where he and his tight band The Enablers camped out for two nights recently to record Charlie Robison Live.
His third disc for Sony Musics Columbia/Lucky Dog label, Live captures Charlie at his best, at his most sarcastic, at his most irreverent having the time of his life. The 16 cuts cover six from his Step Right Up cd, another half-dozen from Life of the Party, a handful of Charlies faves from the likes of AC/DC, Ted Nugent, The Rolling Stones, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Marley, and one new studio cut.
Doing this album actually feels long overdue for me, he says. Our live show has always been our bread and butter, and Ive always wanted to put something out that captured what we do night after night. I really feel like we accomplished that.
The choice of venue was easier than narrowing down the list of songs that eventually made it onto the disc. Weve always done two-night stands at Gruene Hall every Labor Day weekend which is one of my favorite if not the favorite place for me to play in Texas. The fans there are wild, and it was the perfect place to record this album.
On Live, Charlie hits the stage after a short musical intro of driving drums and raw guitar with Poor Mans Son. He follows with Youre Not The Best (but youre the best that I can do), written by Charlies brother Bruce whom he calls the finest songwriter in the world. He immediately launches into his radio hit Right Man For The Job, the lead-off song from his Step Right Up album. He lets the audience handle the chorus on the lawless Loving Country.
Its really cool, he says of the audience participation. You never get used to people singing your own songs.
The tone of the album almost has a bootleg feel, like someone just went in, plugged into the console and pushed record which Charlie says was intentional. We didnt want to change anything because we were recording. I didnt want to tone things down and make it perfect - it wouldve compromised the record. We made a concerted effort to put out of our minds that we were recording and just play our regular show.
We also picked good cross-section of everything we do live to give a well-rounded feel. I tried to put myself in the fans shoes and include the stuff I liked most. And he would have no one on stage with him except his long-time band. The Enablers are a huge part of everything I do. Once they learn our new songs I just let em put their own twist on it. Theyve really done a lot to give the songs their personality. Theyve been with me forever, and they really feel like family.
The storytelling between songs are almost as entertaining as the songs themselves. Following the irreverent The Preacher Charlie reminisces about cruising in his pickup truck with mag wheels on the back (because he couldnt afford two more for the front), Schaefer Beer when youre 16 it tastes damn good, Marlboro Lights and cranking his Audiovox 120-watt stereo. My brother Bruce wrote Anything Might Happen Tonight and I always tell this long story before the song, and I really wanted to keep that in there.
The Enablers wax a little Ted Nugent before twisting countless nursery rhymes on Barlight. The play-on-words Life of the Party precedes The Wedding Song, on which Charlie was joined by duet partner Natalie Maines on the original recording. He brought some ladies up from the crowd to join him for LIVE.
The mood gets a serious leading into Sunset Boulevard with a brief rendition of The Stones You Cant Always Get What You Want. The Irish kicker John OReilly is always an audience favorite.
As things wind down, Charlie leads into Hometown with one more unlikely combination of songs. Ive always loved doing the medley of Bob Marley, Steve Miller Band and Waylon, and it really came about by accident because we never do the same show exactly the same twice. One of my favorite parts is starting Hometown a capella and letting the audience have the second verse all to themselves.
The rollicking uptempo Walter - the only studio cut on the album wraps up Live. I really liked the song the first time I heard it. I feel like very few songs written in Nashville really fit me real well. And Walter seemed like it fit with all the live stuff and kept up with the theme of the record.
Born and raised in Bandera, Texas in a ranching family thats worked the same stretch of real estate since the 1840s, Robison spent his time growing up on a full plate of time-honored Lone Star endeavors--working the ranch, playing football, singing country songs and raising his fair share of hell.
Embracing elements of such mavericks as Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Doug Sahm, John Prine, Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen and even Bruce Springsteen, Robison keeps it all real with a heartland/populist approach that blends his natural gifts as a storyteller with a genuine affection for high-steppin honky tonk and a rockers instinct to rattle the cage. And if he surrenders now and then to an impulse to poke a little fun with the stuffed shirts on Music Row, well, ya wouldnt want the boy to hold that sort of poison inside him, would you?
Charlies shoot-from-the-hip tendencies may have occasionally dipped him in some hot water, but the upshot is that audiences recognize and respond to his refreshing candor. This honest, what you see is what you get stance has helped him to become a true crossover entertainer whos been welcomed on The Grand Ole Opry, Austin City Limits, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborne.
His outspoken ways also landed him the distinguished gig as one of the three judges on USA Networks reality/talent search show Nashville Star. After criss-crossing the country judging the good, the bad and the really bad singers, Charlie camped out in Nashville for eight weeks of live broadcasts critiquing 12 singer/songwriters aspiring for stardom.
In what little time he has left during the week, Charlie is already beginning work on his third studio release. In addition, his version of Dont Take Your Guns To Town was included on the critically-acclaimed album Kindred Spirits/A Tribute To The Songs of Johnny Cash, alongside salutes by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Keb Mo, Little Richard, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart.
In the hard reality of the music biz, the dictate my way or the highway (or some variation thereof) is all too often heard from career-shaping suits. Charlie Robison held out for HIS way, and his tour bus is gobbling up concrete right now. If you cant catch him when he comes to your town, LIVE is the next best thing to being there.