Rarely has an artist been so close to major label success — at least from all outward appearances — only to withdraw from the deal at the last minute. Clearly, Bruce Robison has guts: In the year his brother and labelmate Charlie charts with “I Want You Bad”, when his song “Angry All The Time” becomes a country mainstream hit for McGraw-Hill, Bruce yanked his disc away from Sony’s Lucky Dog to put it out himself.
Someone in the process apparently didn’t like something they heard, but it’s their loss. The mellower of the brothers from Bandera has issued his most polished effort yet, delivering a collection of solid ballads and trademark Texas saga songs that confirm, yet again, no one writes a midtempo country ballad these days like Bruce Robison.
“Can’t Get There From Here” (penned with Allison Moorer), “Bed Of Ashes” (sung in harmony with his wife, Kelly Willis), and “The First Thing About Mary” display Robison’s knack for telling a somber story with tasteful, sophisticated orchestration. “Devil May Care”, a bit of clarinet-fueled swing, brightens the mood, and smack in the middle of the disc is the regional hit — such as it is without radio play — “What Would Willie Do?”, a lyrical novelty about the patron saint of Texas.
If you wanted calculated, radio-ready tunes, Robison delivers two: “Blame It On Me”, a soft ballad of lost love, and “Friendless Marriage”, with co-writer Willis doing her best Emmylou-like vocals on the sad, sad song about a withering relationship. The final three numbers — “Sixteen”, “Anyone But Me” and “Tonight” — are pretty, but they lack fire, and the disc ends on a downer.
The bulk of Country Sunshine is “too smart” for mainstream radio — a phrase Robison has heard from label executives — but there are plenty of listeners craving more than ear candy. For them, Robison delivers the goods.