Cautiously Optimistic

Fifteen Hopefuls Make Up Austin's Musical Class of 2001

Cautiously Optimistic
Photo By Todd V. Wolfson

Charlie Robison

Title: Step Right Up

Label: Columbia/Lucky Dog

Release Date: April 10

His Assessment: "There's one that's really folksy, a couple that are funny, another that's almost way too country, and an Irish-style song I wrote. In other words, it's not a concept record." More to the point, Robison says it's not drastically different than Life of the Party, which after two and a half years on the shelves still sells over 2,000 units a week.

What's Different?: Although it was recorded in spurts at Pedernales between live dates last year, Robison says these sessions sported a bigger budget and a slightly beefier overall sound due mostly to mixing by Nashville outsider Paul Hagar. The biggest difference, he says, is a move away from overtly radio-ready material.

"If they're gonna give you a bunch of money and perks, you have to give them something for radio," says Robison. "On Life of the Party I did that with 'Barlight' and 'Hometown,' but every year I seem to get further and further away from writing radio content." As a possible compromise, his cover of NRBQ's "I Want You Bad" will bow as the first single. "It sounds like Waylon doing NRBQ," he says.

Notable Co-Conspirators: Robison and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines duet on "Wedding Song"; the "I Want You Bad" video features appearances by actors D.B. Sweeney and main Maines man Adrian Pasdar.

Expectations: Columbia proper will now handle press, radio, and marketing chores, which Robison says is itself a remarkable show of faith. But, he adds, "you never know until you walk into the record store and see that big goofy cutout of yourself."

Where to Find Him: Most high-priority Nashville albums are set up by a nonstop string of radio interviews and promotional appearances, but Robison says Columbia plans to fly programmers to his live shows.

"They're used to dealing with guys they can send to media school where you learn to give pat answers about the Grand Ol' Opry," he says. "With me, they know that if they send me to a station where the DJ is a dumbass, I'm going to tell him so. Essentially, they're just working on finding ways to put me in situations where I'll be least offensive."

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