Album Review: Bruce Robison – The New World
By Bruce Robison’s estimation, roots music in this digital day and age needs to be a lot rootsier than its current status affords it. It’s getting a little too slick and his latest album, The New World–a departure of sorts from his previous efforts–attempts to set a precedent by taking cues from an earlier time in Austin’s illustrious music history, recalling ’70s stalwarts by the likes of Michael Martin Murphey, Jerry Jeff Walker and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. One of those cues is the unpolished, live-in-studio quality where, if you pay attention, you can hear the squeak of the guitar and buzz of the banjo strings as the players change chords.
He’s built a reputation on his solid song writing and it has rewarded him with cuts from the likes of Tim McGraw, the Dixie Chicks and Gary Allan. George Strait even took two of his songs inside the top ten. Despite that reputation as a lyrics guy, he’s always had solid melodies, but on this album in particular he’s placed even more of an emphasis on crafting a groove, sometimes to the point where the song becomes so obscure, like the funky “The Hammer,” that it’s hard to follow what exactly he’s singing about.
A banjo carries the uptempo pace on “Only,” a song about a guy so infatuated with a new woman that he forgets the names of all the girls he knew, before slowing down for “Bad Girl Blues.” Robison sings from the point of view of an aging woman trying to hang on to her bad girl past without much success. It clocks in at just over five minutes and, combined with songs like the plaintive “Larosse” (4:16) and the wistfulness of “Echo” (5:32), recalls a few tracks from his previous EP, establishing him as the top purveyor of cinematic story songs.
The epic length of the previous tracks strike a balance with the brevity and tempo of songs like “She Don’t Care,” “The New One” (which treads on the same thematic territory as “Only”) and the rockabilly boogie-woogie of “Twistin’.”
In the end, Robison accomplishes his goal of creating a rootsier album while introducing more upbeat material, both of which may find fans of past albums having a hard time adjusting, but opens the door to a future of exciting possibilities.
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