Step Right Up (Columbia Nashville/Lucky Dog Records)
Charlie Robison's third album serves up a robust, gritty brew, full of songs that take a wry look at life's failures and tragedies. In "Desperate Times," he tells the haunting tale of a young man's road to destruction in his reckless pursuit of riches. Desire, bold and urgent, sizzles in his delivery of "Sweet Inspiration": Your lovin' makes my blood boil hot/just like the desert heat/that's cookin' through the cracks/of this old highway. That one's a cover version, but Charlie wrote or co-wrote eight of Step Right Up's 12 tunes.
Dixie Chick Natalie Maines adds her heartachin' voice to Robison's potent, gravelled drawl in "The Wedding Song." It's a Texas waltz that takes a sardonic yet poignant look at a couple's commitment to each other, long after fairy-tale dreams have faded to reality.
Step Right Up is pungent with the hard-core flavor of the Texas dancehalls and beer joints Charlie Robison came from. No "hat act" looking to be the next pop-crossover sensation, Charlie offers bittersweet slices of life in the real world.
-- Marianne Horner