Something to mull over: what the hell is country rock? Is it the bland outlaw posturings of the Eagles, circa Desperado? Or, is it perhaps the weird, mellow lilt of Neil Young, circa Harvest? Is it both? If so, how can the term be applied to such radically different artists and works of art and retain significant meaning?
Beats me, and I guess now’s not the time or place to prattle on about such problems. What I do know is that country rock is the only fitting genre descriptor for a record like Charlie Robison’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas. Formally speaking, much of the album is given to more or less straight country—song structures, imagery, and Robison’s twang fit squarely within that tradition. That being said, everything here is played with an unmistakably rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Robison’s band is a damn good one, too, lending the proceedings a freewheeling feel that never devolves into sloppiness. To boot, the predominantly self-penned songs are terrific (in particular, the solo acoustic, multi-generational family epic “Indianola”).
The problem with this record, insofar as there is one, is that it is a live album. The whoops and hollers of the crowd distract, and the bits of showmanship that make a live concert special to the attendees don’t translate well to tape. Granted, that’s not really Robison’s fault—it’s a failing of the form. Still, it does slightly diminish the impact of this otherwise excellent release.