Step Right Up
I was completely prepared to be disappointed with Charlie Robison's latest CD. After all, it was the moronic toe-tapper "Barlight" that became a hit for him from his 1998 disc, Life of the Party. I firmly expected an album chock-full of dumb redneck anthems in a similar vein. Fortunately, I was wrong. Much of Step Right Up instead follows on the tall Texas storytelling exhibited on Party's finer tracks, like "My Hometown" and "Loving County."
Don't get me wrong, though, old Charlie is still a major wise ass and can get rowdy with the best of them. "My sins went with him when they put him in the hole," he sings on "The Preacher." "Bless my heart let the good times roll."
Elsewhere, Robison trades verses with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines on "The Wedding Song," a very funny and yet oddly touching song about two high school sweethearts who decide to get married despite the "freshman 15" she may or may not have packed on in college and despite the fact that they both know they're just settling. "Well you are still here/And I am still here/Whether I ever loved you is not perfectly clear." "We will get by for the rest of our lives." The wedding "in suburban Seguin" comes complete with the dogs in the pick-up truck, the brisket, and some old BTO.
Robison gets a little songwriting assistance from his brother Bruce (who I still say is the more talented Robison brother, albeit in a softer, James Taylor sort of vein) on the honky tonk opener "Right Man for the Job," the pretty ballad "Tonight," and the Tex-Mex flavored Zydeco "One in a Million." On the latter, the brothers come up with this inspired bit of sarcasm: "Well you asked me to meet you at the movies/And I knew we'd have such a good time/Meryl Streep in a park with an accent/Well it sounds like a favorite of mine." Robison also does a pretty fair job with a pair of NRBQ covers, "I Want You Bad" and "It Comes to Me Naturally," and a song by The Hollisters, "Sweet Inspiration."
But Robison really shows us what he's got on the terrific story song "Desperate Times" (a reprise from his 1996 album, Bandera) and the Irish raver "John O'Reilly," which sounds quite a bit like Steve Earle's recent forays into the genre.
And even if the closing track, "Life of the Party," is a bit of Robert Earl Keen-like jokey redneck foolishness, Robison has shown us enough substance and wit up to that point to make this one a winner.