Charlie Robison: Beautiful Day

CharlieRobison_BeautifulDayA lovable rogue laid flat by divorce

It’s been five years since we last heard from Charlie Robison. After a run on Sony’s Lucky Dog label and a live album on Columbia, Robison moved to the indie Dualtone for 2004’s Good Times. Though he continued to perform live, the CDs he’d been releasing every year or two dried up. Perhaps now we know why: in 2008 his nine-year marriage to Dixie Chick Emily Robison ended in divorce. Rather than writing through the dissolution, he saved up his emotions for this post-divorce album. Only he and his ex know if the venom is righteous, but whether it’s well-founded criticism or angry lashing-out, it still packs a sting. One takeaway: don’t leave a writer feeling you’ve wronged them.

No doubt many of these songs were written in the final throes of Robison’s marriage, but the wreckage is viewed as aftermath rather than from the eye of the hurricane. Robison charts many of the classic stages of recovery, including shock, confusion, denial, anger, depression, and uneasy acceptance. He doesn’t bother to cloak his emotions in songwriter’s allusion, but there’s artfulness in the way he opens up the main veins to purge his bitterness. Given that his marriage had officially “become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities,” it’s unsurprising that Robison would castigate his ex for the lightweight echo of her former self he believes she’s become, and the broken promises with which he’s left.

Robison begins his reappraisal with the title track’s scathing portrait of superficial life in Los Angeles, and continues with a bitter spit of words in “Yellow Blues.” The latter has a terrific country-psych arrangement, complete with Eastern influence, twangy and backwards guitars, and a thumping “Tomorrow Never Knows” styled bass line. The lyrics suggest that in an effort to bolster favorable public perception, Robison’s mate kept their marital problems quiet rather than facing them down. A pair of Keith Gattis songs, “Down Again” and “Reconsider,” covers the merry-go-round of depression and forlorn denial. Robison writes of self-pity, barroom self-medication, and tentative steps towards recovery, the latter is most healthily heard in the chiming mandolin and social reconnections of “Feelin’ Good.”

By album’s end Robison’s far from healed, and a defeated cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street” begs the question of whether failure has permanently short-circuited opportunity and hope. While Springsteen’s lyrics could illustrate the stunted adolescence of American Graffiti’s John Milner, Robison’s version suggests he’s stepping outside his own misery to consider the broader impact of his divorce. Either way, the roguish abandon of younger years has given way to middle-age doubt and regret. This isn’t nearly as depressing as it might seem, and though the processing isn’t pretty, the raw turmoil provides Robison the basis for this powerful album. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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