Bruce Robison and the Back Porch Band: Bruce Robison and the Back Porch Band
Bruce Robison and the Back Porch Band also resembles records from the past because it is short, a mere 34 minutes in length. The good news about this is that it doesn’t need editing.
Bruce Robison has the most amiable personality in country / Americana music today. He’s an “aw shucks” kind of guy, but regular enough that he’s not afraid to curse or drink too much or smoke ‘em if he’s got ‘em. He wears his family values on his sleeve: he has sung with his rowdy and talented brother Charlie, and Bruce recorded his last two albums with his gifted wife, singer Kelly Willis. Bruce goes it alone this time for the first time in almost ten years, although he’s joined by a batch of friends and players (including Willis) nominally known as the Back Porch Band.
The album was cut in one paneled room using analog equipment to give it that old-time feeling where accidents become part of the recording. Hence, there are happy mistakes, background sounds and wise-ass comments incorporated into the disc that lends it a friendly intimacy. Robison may call the tunes, but everyone in the Back Porch Band (core members include Marty Muse on steel, Brian Beken on fiddle and bass, Chip Dolan on keyboards and Conrad Choucroun on drums), gets to show off their stuff.
The nine tracks are a mix of self-penned, co-writes, and cover songs, including a version of the Who’s “Squeeze Box” as a country romp that begins with a swinging fiddle lick before Bruce indelicately joins in on vocals and the band adds their syncopated riffs. The two-step rhythms sound like they belong in a Lone Star dance hall more than Pete Townshend’s London. And unlike Townshend and the Who, Robison never gets too boisterous. Not only is Robison singing about his wife, but she harmonizes with him on the song. Mama may have a squeezebox, but Papa knows how to keep time and keep going all night with Mama’s help!
Now Robison does get wild. The opening track “Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man” rocks out a non-apologetic tale about a man who cannot stop partying despite the good advice from his friends, family, doctor and lawyer. Robison is joined by old pal Jack Ingram on the Western Swing of “Paid My Dues” as they wail and howl about cocaine, bills, staring at the ceiling, and bad habits.
And Robison also understands how to be gentle. He turns Damon Bramblett’s dulcet “The Years” into a melodious love song about aging together. “What’s another New Year’s Eve”, he croons slowly and affectionately, then adds, “The years sure look good on you." Robison also turns a tale of disappointment on “Sweet Dreams” into honeyed nostalgia. One doesn’t know what one has until it's gone, but the memory will always linger on.
Bruce Robison and the Back Porch Band also resembles records from the past because it is short, a mere 34 minutes in length. The good news about this is that it doesn’t need editing. It’s not padded, and indeed one wishes it were longer. Robison could have easily re-recorded songs from his past or added a few cover versions. In this digital world in which best-selling artists such as Kanye West and Chance the Rapper don’t even put out hard copies of their long-drawn-out records and recombine them at will, it takes guts to release an album the traditional way, albeit on compact disc. Robison displays the courage of his convictions here and clearly has a good time doing so.