Songwriting is a lot like playing the lottery. All it takes is one song on a platinum-bound album and your rent is paid up for a couple of years. Bruce Robison has been fortunate and skilled enough to hit this Nashville jackpot several times. His song "Travelin' Soldier" was huge for The Dixie Chicks, as was "Wrapped" for George Strait, and "Angry All The Time" for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. On His Greatest Robison revisits ten favorite songs from his personal catalog. Yep, this boy can sure write.
All of the tunes on His Greatest were re-recorded especially for the album. "Some of the songs have changed a bit along the way, a little slower, faster, or maybe reflecting a bit of the fine folks who have covered them," acknowledges Robison. The CD begins with his version of "Travelin' Soldier." Being sung by a guy instantly makes the song more of a universal fable than a first person tale, which changes its emotional appeal when compared to the Dixie Chick's version. Robison's version of "Angry All The Time" is more intimate and introspective than the McGraw/Hill recording. Robison's performing style is straight with little in the way of excess sentimentality or showbiz pizzazz. The songs, rather than his voice, are the stars here.
Songwriters usually record song demos onto "pitch CDs" to entice big-name artists to record them. These can vary from fully charted orchestrated renditions to just guitar and vocals; His Greatest sits somewhere between these two extremes. With a full band headed by Kevin McKinney on guitars and vocals and Robison's wife, Kelly Willis, doing backing vocals, the arrangements are full without being too busy. The playing is restrained and very laid back, which works on every song except "Red Letter Day" which begs for a bit more reckless abandon.
Bruce Robison may not be as much of a household name as Willie Nelson, Kris Kistofferson, or Lyle Lovett, but on His Greatest he proves that his songwriting skills are in every way their equal.