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First person singular 

Charlie Robison returns to the road, with therapeutic songs in tow

Back when he was married to the Dixie Chicks' Emily Erwin, Texas singer-songwriter Charlie Robison explained how the bleaker songs just don't come as easily "when you're married, have a kid and everything's good."

So is the purveyor of country choruses like, "Barlight, bar bright, first bar I see tonight" ready to start writing dark songs again?

"Yeah, yeah, sure!" says Robison, whose nine-year marriage ended in divorce last August. "The new record does have more I wouldn't say dark songs, per se but when I was writing them, it was the worst time of the divorce. We weren't arguing or anything, but you just take divorce as such a failure."

Robison's forthcoming album, entitled Beautiful Day, finds him writing more in the style of his brother, Bruce Robison, who penned tear-stained country hits for George Strait, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and, yes, the Dixie Chicks.

"In the past, I definitely wrote in the third person," explains Robison. "My brother, he writes very much in the first person, and I kind of veiled things. But on this record, I didn't really have a choice because of what was going on in my life. It was like this therapeutic thing to write from the first person about what I was going through."

The self-produced album also represents something of a musical departure for Robison, even showing a previously unexpressed Beatles influence (not exactly revolutionary, except in a Texas country context) and plenty of electric guitar from Charlie Sexton.

None of which is to imply that Robison, who comes from a family of ranchers and boasts a hundred head of cattle himself, would or could leave his roots behind. After all, it was he who dared to cover acerbic Lubbock legend Terry Allen's "Flatland Boogie" on his last album, and continues to work frequently with Allen cohort (and Dixie Chick papa) Lloyd Maines.

"Terry and Lloyd and Guy [Clark]," recalls Robison, "those were the guys that mentored me when I was 21 or 22 and was just getting my first big record deal with Warner Brothers. Whenever I'd go to Nashville, I'd stay with those guys and we'd start writing and drinking whiskey at 9 o'clock in the morning. Of course, we didn't get a whole lot of writing done."

These days, Robison records for Dualtone, which has been an indie home to the likes of Tift Merritt and Darden Smith. He says the new album has been pretty much done for close to two years, pending some "discrepancies of opinion" and "a few adjustments" on the label's part.

All in all, though, Robison's not complaining, either about life on the road (the current tour is a solo acoustic venture) or back home in San Antonio, where he has a trio of kids who still need raising.

"My ex-wife and I have a wonderful relationship now; we spend more time together now than we ever did when we were married," says Robison, recalling with pride how they both sat down at the kitchen table and came up with an agreement for their lawyer to draw up. "Our lawyer was like, 'Why are y'all even getting divorced?'"

Not that Robison is inclined to do it all over again: "I don't think the second divorce would go as smoothly."

bill@csindy.com

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