Bruce Robison – “Heartache to Houston”

Juli Thanki | July 29th, 2010

Bruce Robison Bruce Robison’s new single “Heartache to Houston” from upcoming album From the Top is currently available as a free download on his website—it might just be the best non-purchase you make all week.

“Heartache to Houston” begins like a slow burning fuse, with Robison coming to the harsh realization that “there’s nothing left worth saving” in his relationship. The solution? Leave town, of course. But this is country music, so that doesn’t quite work: he’s still seeing “her face in every headlight” as the miles fly by on I-10. The song slowly picks up speed and volume, and by the halfway mark it’s settled into a comfortable, mid-tempo groove anchored by drummer Joey Sheffield and guitarist Miles Zuniga of the band Fastball, both of whom know their way around an irresistible hook or two (remember late ’90s monster hit “The Way?”). This roots rock arrangement—which also includes Bruce Hughes and Brian Becken from the South Austin Jug Band—is a change of pace from Robison’s usual sound, but the song’s lyrics, vivid and sharply written, are typical Bruce. The portrait of a man spending hours behind the wheel, wanting to be anywhere but with his memories, is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever utilized this time honored method of (trying to) outrun heartbreak, or at least anyone who’s listened to “A Little Past Little Rock” a few dozen times.

Unfortunately, despite its catchiness, masterfully written lyrics, and an arrangement that’s made for steering wheel drumming, Robison’s version of “Heartache to Houston” might not get a lot of airplay outside of Texas. If some mainstream artist chose to record it, however, chances are it would go the way of Robinson-penned hits such as “Wrapped,” “Angry All the Time,” and “Travelin’ Soldier.”

Thumbs Up

  1. Adam
    July 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I saw the name and didn’t even have to read the review to see that it was a thumbs up. The reviewers on this site are very predictable.

  2. Adam
    July 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Should have said I saw the name of the artist…

  3. Brady Vercher
    July 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

    And you knew that because Juli has reviewed something by Bruce Robison before? Or do you disagree with the rating?

  4. Michelle
    July 29, 2010 at 10:34 am

    I love “Angry All The Time” by Bruce and Kelly Willis. Tim McGraw did a really good cover.

  5. WAYNOE
    July 29, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Adam is probably referring to Bruce’s left-of-center non-mainstream type artist/genre.

    It appears like the non-mainstream artists get better reviews on this site than mainstream. The more left of center the better as well. I am just saying it “appears”.

    There is much more I can say but thou canst not bear it now.

  6. Keith
    July 29, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I agree that the lyrics and arrangement are great, but Robison’s vocal is what will keep this from the airwaves. He just doesn’t have the vocal talent to compete. Here he sounds very nasally, almost as if he was sick when he recorded it.
    Maybe someone else can do a version of the song that can do it better justice?

  7. Thomas
    July 29, 2010 at 11:16 am

    …that’s a brand new twist to me: heartache can be…emotionfree? fair enough, it could make you numb, but that’s not an optimal starting point for a piece of music about the greatest unwanted emotional state of mind. i’ll stick to the possum and yoakam when laying low next time round.

  8. Stormy
    July 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I saw the name and knew it would be a thumbs up too. Bruce doesn’t do bad songs.

  9. Barry Mazor
    July 29, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Some of us who care about country music–however narrowly or widely you want to define that–somehow manage to have real friends of varying political stripes, don’t judge every bit of music that comes along by the real (or imagined) politics of the artist involved, and even find it possible not to assign conspiratorial motives to every writer we read.

    It’s sort of a shame that others have to suck the life out of everything, just everything, and reduce everyone in the field to cartoons for the sake of their private little culture war, or to get a rise out of strangers.

    Fortunately, Bruce Robison’s songs, and Juli Thanki’s astute writing speak for themselves..The stink bombs are harmless–but they do stink up the room.

  10. Kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I havent put on my “Texas is so great” hat in a while here, so, here goes.

    Bruce will never be compared vocally (favorably, at least) to the Possum or to even freaking Wade Hayes, for that matter. In Texas, you’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger, more resplendent young, country vocal than Brandon Rhyder. That doesnt mean he’s the greatest artist, by a long shot. Here’s the thing, where Bruce is from, you dont have to be a golden throated crooner, or Andrea Bocelli to be appreciated as a treasure if other areas of the artist’s product shine as brightly as Bruce’s writing historically has.

    Obviously, other regions have their quirks and unique tastes, so anyone wanting to can all just keep your “Texas isnt the only place that appreciates unique talent” comments to yourself….

  11. Leeann
    July 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Barry Mazor is my hero.

  12. Colt
    July 29, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Earl Campbell is my hero.

  13. WAYNOE
    July 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Adam is my hero.

  14. Thomas
    July 29, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    …spiderman, anyone?

  15. nm
    July 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Kelly, I’m an unabashed fan of Bruce Robison. But that doesn’t mean that he always does the best version of his own songs. Sometimes having a great voice and fine interpretive chops beats having the chops but not that great a voice. I mean, honestly, I rather listen to his wife’s version of “Wrapped” than his, any day of the week.

  16. Jim Malec
    July 29, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    I totally agree with NM. I even think Strait’s version of “Wrapped” bests Robison. Having a great voice never makes a track worse, only relying on that great voice to cover up an inability to interpret and emote.

  17. Dan Milliken
    July 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Amen, Stormy. And great review despite the lack of suspense.

    I actually love Bruce’s voice, reediness and all. I find it really warm and expressive. Different strokes.

  18. Kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    NM – I’m with you on all counts. I never claimed that he is the best at performing his own songs. Hell, his brother made “My Hometown” and “You’re Not the Best” seem like his songs, when in actuality, Bruce wrote them. I cant picture Bruce even coming close to Charlie’s performance of those tunes. My entire point was based around the fact that Bruce is still highly regarded here, in spite of the fact that he isnt going to win any vocalist of the year awards. Of course, I’m also with Dan. I hppen to love Bruce’s voice, which many Texans do.

  19. Leeann
    July 29, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    I’m with Dan too.

  20. Jon
    July 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Here’s the thing, where Bruce is from, you dont have to be a golden throated crooner, or Andrea Bocelli to be appreciated as a treasure if other areas of the artist’s product shine as brightly as Bruce’s writing historically has.

    Well, that doesn’t narrow down where he’s from at all. I’d like to know of any locality that doesn’t fit that description.

    Nice to see Jim Malec making an appearance over here. I reckon he’s just lonely for some company, since there’s naught but chirping crickets over at American Twang.

  21. Jim Malec
    July 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Nice to see Jim Malec making an appearance over here. I reckon he’s just lonely for some company, since there’s naught but chirping crickets over at American Twang.

    To quote Sassy Gay Friend: “What, what, what are you doing?”

  22. Jon
    July 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    As for the record itself, I think it’s ok, and Robison’s singing fits the arrangement well enough, but I thought it effectively ended at around the 3:00 mark and the extra minute didn’t have much to offer. (Note to Juli: I didn’t put a metronome on it, but I’m pretty sure that the tempo, as opposed to the feel, doesn’t actually pick up.)

  23. Leeann
    July 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    C’mon, Jon, how low.

  24. Jon
    July 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Low? Maybe, but it’s true. Furthermore, I’d say it’s not any lower than attacking others’ blogs for purported ethical lapses, and it’s definitely not any lower than barring someone from commenting on your blog purely because you don’t want to contend with criticism any more challenging than “u r so wrong!!!”

  25. Leeann
    July 29, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I have no idea what that’s all about, but as the cliche goes…two wrongs don’t make a right.

  26. Jim Malec
    July 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    This kind of shit is exactly why you’re not allowed to comment at American Twang. There is absolutely no reason to bring any of this up just because I happened to make (an entirely on topic) comment on this thread.

    Furthermore, I’d say it’s not any lower than attacking others’ blogs for purported ethical lapses

    If you think drawing attention to the fact that a publication is systematically appropriating content and re-packaging it as its own is “low,” then I think you have some warped opinions about ethics.

    and it’s definitely not any lower than barring someone from commenting on your blog purely because you don’t want to contend with criticism any more challenging than “u r so wrong!!!”

    That’s not why you were barred. You were barred because you have a history of combative, off topic discussion–and your first comments at American Twang were cut from exactly the same cloth. I just don’t want your incendiary comments on my blog. If Brady and Brody think your comments are appropriate for The 9513, that’s fine and dandy–comment over here all you want.

  27. Stormy
    July 29, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    NM: To be fair, there aren’t a lot of people Kelly can’t outsing.

  28. Jon
    July 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Well, the funny part there was that Jim was complaining about other blogs appropriating content just hours after penning a long screed advising James Otto and other musicians concerned about the appropriation of their content to “stop whining.” I had the temerity to point out the humor therein – actually relevant not just to one, but to two current discussions on American Twang – and that’s when I was advised that my post was going down the memory hole.

    I certainly don’t have the authority to ban anyone here on The9513, I wouldn’t want to do it even if I did – at least, not for the kind of thought crimes that have Jim so exercised. But I do think that it’s kind of funny that he has to leave his own blog and go elsewhere to have much in the way of conversation; evidently talking to yourself isn’t as exciting as he thought it would be.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

  29. Kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Jon – look, you can lure others into your insipid, crotchety-old-man game of splitting hairs and nitpcking. Not me, dude. Bruce is from Texas, and in my opinion, the general Texas country audience displays a great ability to embrace artists, specific to the state, that arent exactly able to be effectively packaged for the masses, due to a variety of distinctive traits.

    Put a fresh slathering of fixident on and chew on that, after you hit the early bird at the local Ponderosa.

  30. Adam
    July 29, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    And you knew that because Juli has reviewed something by Bruce Robison before? Or do you disagree with the rating?

    Neither. When I see a review of a song by the name of an artist that isn’t played on the radio, the song usually gets a thumbs up.

  31. Barry Mazor
    July 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    You know what, Adam. Sometimes it’s the job–the important part of the job–of people who write about this stuff to bring music to people’s attention that’s NOT included on radio’s l’il 10-song playlists. It’s called “news.” Nothing against what’s on those playlists–but there’s a massive piece of machinery in place to make sure somebody somewhere is always talking about those releases. And there are hundreds of others, with good things that can be discovered.

  32. Jim Malec
    July 29, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Well, the funny part there was that Jim was complaining about other blogs appropriating content just hours after penning a long screed advising James Otto and other musicians concerned about the appropriation of their content to “stop whining.”

    I do think they need to stop whining. The whining isn’t productive–it hurts the industry, impedes forward progress, enables people to cling to a broken business model and victimizes the industry’s consumers. If you’re trying to make me backtrack on that statement, I’m not going to do it.

    You argument is based on a willful misreading of both pieces of writing, and exists only because you’re willing to go to extreme lengths to find fault with anything you don’t agree with. Which, I’ve learned over the past two years, pretty much anything you didn’t say first.

    On one hand, I wrote, in essence, that you can’t stop piracy on a practical level because you can’t convince enough people that it’s wrong on a societal level. Clearly, the crux of my article wasn’t, “Hey, James Otto–why don’t you just quit your bitchin’!,” as you’d have readers believe, but rather, “This is an example that shows one of the reasons why we’re not fixing the problem.

    On the other hand, I pointed out how a publication is systemically, willfully and repeatedly taking other publication’s content, re-packaging it and then passing it off as its own.

    They are completely different issues, and you can’t just tie them together because they both deal with forms of theft. That’s the single most simplistic way to see those two articles, and it completely misses the point of each.

    I had the temerity to point out the humor therein – actually relevant not just to one, but to two current discussions on American Twang – and that’s when I was advised that my post was going down the memory hole.

    Actually, I had removed a comment of your well before that comment–at least a week before. I just didn’t completely ban you from the site until I gave you a second chance to say something not completely incendiary and pointless.

    I certainly don’t have the authority to ban anyone here on The9513, I wouldn’t want to do it even if I did – at least, not for the kind of thought crimes that have Jim so exercised.

    Aww, poor Jon… the hapless victim in big bad Jim’s evil scheme to censor his website and not allowing conflicting viewpoints. Seriously dude, take some responsibility for your last two years of comments. Do you think I want that crap littering my blog’s comments?

    But I do think that it’s kind of funny that he has to leave his own blog and go elsewhere to have much in the way of conversation; evidently talking to yourself isn’t as exciting as he thought it would be.

    Yeah, I make one comment on another blog and it’s a sign of how crappy my three-week old blog is. Great logic, Jon.

  33. Brady Vercher
    July 29, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    @Adam: I guess I’m just unclear as to whether your original comment was meant to be critical or not. Do you think there’s a problem with the way we cover the artists we do?

  34. WAYNOE
    July 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Adam,

    You are completely correct. See my aforementioned post.

    Jim Malec,

    Do you not have somewhere to be?

  35. Stormy
    July 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I hear Bruce Robison on KVET, KGSR and KUT.

  36. WAYNOE
    July 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Brady,

    Can’t speak for Adam. My point is probably similar to his however. It seems that off-beat, non-mainstream type artists receive better reviews as a rule. Nothing wrong with that but we are just posting observations. I think my running list since January of this year backs that up but I will be happy to do a specific count.

    Unlike Malec’s opinion as I perceive it to be, we should be able to post our thoughts not only on the artists but also those that review them. Thanks for providing an open forum to do this. I know that critics hate to be critiqued themselves, but you all have been fairly good sports about it.

    I as a rule take exception the the whole idea of critics. Many (notice I didn’t say all) have little experience in what they actually review. Being a journalism major does not qualify someone. However, that’s for another argument.

    Notwithstanding, when a review is one I agree with I post my affirmative.

  37. Leeann
    July 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Seriously. I’m confused. Bloggers commenting on other people’s blogs of similar subject focus is not a new thing. So, I don’t understand why it’s being treated as such when Jim comments here. I’m very happy with how Country Universe is doing, but I frequently comment at other blogs both because I’m interested in what other bloggers are saying about a topic that I enjoy and to support other bloggers in the community. I don’t get how Jim commenting here or elsewhere in any way has anything to do with how his blog is doing. I’ve disagreed with Jim a zillion times myself, but I have no reason to believe that his blog won’t be successful. And even if it isn’t successful (and it’s obviusly too soon to know if it will or won’t), how Junior High is it to “make fun” of him for it? Strange adults.

  38. Kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Waynoe – as per usual, by your own criteria, you shouldnt be critical of music critics, since you arent one yourself. Obivuosly, that’s preposterous, but you are the one who continues to comically make the same, damn comment about how many music critics arent qualified to actaully be music critics.

  39. Kelly
    July 29, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Sorry for the misspelling. Waynoe just really makes me crazy.

  40. WAYNOE
    July 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Kelly,

    Glad I can influence you. Isn’t that what good journalists are supposed to do? Oops. I may have given myself away. By the way, I for one do not frequent Ponderosa.

    Are you this mad all the time?

    See you in the Panhandle!

  41. Jon
    July 29, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Kelly, it’s not nit-picking to point out that what’s under that “Texas is so great” hat – and I don’t mean yours in particular, but anyone’s – is nothing more than a line of tumbleweeds blowing in the hot west Texas air. The fact is that when one sees a “Texas music” enthusiast wearing a cast on his arm, it’s almost always because he broke it trying to pat himself on the back for being so much more discriminating and more country than anyone else. Even when it was fresh it was old, and it’s been a long time since it was fresh.

    @Waynoe It seems that off-beat, non-mainstream type artists receive better reviews as a rule.

    It also seems that when mainstream artists – like, for instance, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Sugarland, et.al. – get good reviews, that’s a cause for complaint, too. In fact, it really seems that the point is simply that you don’t like reading reviews you disagree with. Which is a pretty trivial one, actually.

  42. Brocephus
    July 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Barry:
    I don’t think the point of any “review” is to point people to otherwise unnoticed music. Call it a “discovery” section if that’s what it is. That would distinguish between a thumbs-up given to common-knowledge radio fare and a recommendation for new music. One is a heads-up, the other is a notice of approval for something the reader’s already aware of.

    In the “new discovery” section, you wouldn’t need a thumbs-up; it would just be assumed that the recommended music was recommended for a reason. It seems like that’s how it should be.

  43. luckyoldsun
    July 29, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I like a lot of non-mainstream artists: Dale Watson, Guy Clark, Chris Knight, Rosie Flores, Wayne Hancock to name a few that come to mind.

    I bought a Bruce Robison CD based on published reviews but I threw it in the trash. The guy struck me as bland and awful.

  44. idlewildsouth
    July 30, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Adam, did you consider the fact that left of center, non-mainstream artists get more good reviews here is more a reflection of mainstream country music than it is this websites bias?

    As for the song….I love Bruce Robison’s writing a whole whole whole lot, and for my taste, as long as the singer is hitting the same notes as the instruments, I typically prefer the writers versions of songs.

  45. Razor X
    July 30, 2010 at 5:52 am

    I don’t think the point of any “review” is to point people to otherwise unnoticed music. Call it a “discovery” section if that’s what it is. That would distinguish between a thumbs-up given to common-knowledge radio fare and a recommendation for new music. One is a heads-up, the other is a notice of approval for something the reader’s already aware of.

    So music that isn’t widely known shouldn’t be reviewed??

  46. Adam
    July 30, 2010 at 8:57 am

    @Brady Vercher, @idlewildsouth

    I have no problems with the reviews on this site, and I have actually discovered a couple of artists that I never would have heard of otherwise. You guys have the right, since this is your site, to slant your reviews however you want. It just seems funny that songs with great lyrics and average singers get better reviews than songs with great singers and average lyrics. I completely understand the bad reviews for bad lyrics and bad singers (i.e. “Farmer’s Daughter” from Rodney Atkins). It’s only an opinion, but I think the site overall is great!

  47. Ben Foster
    July 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I like the production – good balance of country and rock sounds, but it doesn’t overwhelm the vocal.

  48. Rick
    July 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Oh wow, another weak voiced “Texas regional sound” Americana song only a liberal could love! That’s just what we need more of these days. (Right Barry?) I find this song progresses rapidly from unpleasant to unlistenable. Double thumbs down, although with the right vocalist and production approach the song might be okay. Who cares about the lyrics when the sound of a song is as flat as the West Texas plains…

  49. Chris N.
    July 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I suspect Bruce lives in the wrong part of Texas and holds the wrong political views to meet with Rick’s approval, no matter how good the song may be. In Rick’s world only right-wingers can conceivably produce anything of substance.

  50. Brocephus
    July 30, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    No Razor X that wasn’t my point. I think these “reviews” should be kept separate from, for example, the new K Ches review because the motives behind the two articles are different.

    If the writers here went out of their way to “thumbs down” a song or album almost nobody had heard of or planned on buying, there would be no readers to care. But by giving a score to a song that figuratively everyone has heard or will hear, the writer’s have an audience in those who don’t like the song, do like the song, or have yet to hear the song but will eventually. (Basically everyone)

    That’s why these articles should be kept in a “discovery” section, while the Chesney-type releases should merit “reviews”. A review should be a judgment on something everybody has or will experience, and a discovery should be a recommendation for something that might pass unnoticed. Giving a “thumbs-up” to an album nobody knows about is just as pointless as giving a “thumbs down” to something nobody knows about, especially here where the rule of thumb goes that if I haven’t heard of it, it’s going to be a thumbs up.

  51. Stormy
    July 30, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    I don’t think as few of us have heard of Bruce Robison as you think.

  52. Brocephus
    July 31, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I’ve heard of Bruce Robison. I bought ‘Eleven Stories’ a long time ago. He is not on the same plane as a mainstream artist, in terms of recognition and popularity, which you very well know.

  53. Stormy
    July 31, 2010 at 9:14 am

    No, but within the context of this website he isn’t an unknown singer. In fact, there are probably more people on this site likely to buy his albums than say Junlianne Hough, Kellie Pickler or even Rascal Flatts. Ergo, using the logic of popularity, it makes a good deal of sense to review his singles and albums on this site.

  54. Jon
    July 31, 2010 at 9:16 am

    I think these “reviews” should be kept separate from, for example, the new K Ches review because the motives behind the two articles are different.

    And you know the motives are different because…?

  55. WAYNOE
    July 31, 2010 at 9:27 am

    BROCEPHUS,

    You speak the truth my friend.

  56. Brody Vercher
    July 31, 2010 at 9:38 am

    In fact, there are probably more people on this site likely to buy his albums than say Junlianne Hough, Kellie Pickler or even Rascal Flatts.

    I can see where you might draw that conclusion based on the readers who comment, but it also assumes they’re the only readers.

  57. Leeann
    July 31, 2010 at 10:29 am

    I think Brody is right. That’s quite an assumption to make. I also think Jon makes a good pointt.

  58. Jon G.
    August 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I’d heard of Bruce Robison before because of his songwriting credits on the aforementioned hits “Wrapped,” “Travelin’ Soldier,” and “Angry All the Time.”

    And Spider-Man IS my hero!

  59. Mark e
    November 16, 2010 at 8:34 am

    One of the guys I play music with brought this title track to the table of our jam session. Cool song that I later glommed the lyrics and tabs to. I should have known it was a Bruce tune, the man is a heck of a fine songwriter.
    The thing is, I had never heard Bruce perform the song until a couple days ago when it came on a local “renegade” radio station.
    I was disappointed in the vocals when I heard it. Bruce just doesn’t have the pipes to carry it off and, actually, the guy who brought it to my attention does a much nicer job.
    Again, Bruce is a talented writer (as is nis brother, Charlie), but the performance falls short.
    Oh, and by the way, are you aware that these guys have a very talented singer/songwriter sister? Her name is Robyn Ludwick and she is well worth checking out…

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