Even though he had a couple of minor hits at the dawn of the millennium, Charlie Robison is probably best known as the ex-husband of Dixie Chick / Court Yard Hounds’ Emily Robison. Unfortunately there’s not much on his first CD for Thirty Tigers likely to change that perception. The most interesting thing on this collection of covers is the actual CD cover – a big-footed, Stetson-sporting, cigar-chomping cowboy struts in front of a psychedelic cactus in the classic Keep on Truckin’ pose. It’s as though R. Crumb somehow used Kinky Friedman as a model for this most iconic piece of hippie art.
Speaking of the Kinkster, his The Wild Man of Borneo is just one of the many head-scratching choices of cover songs. It’s a mystery as to why or how Robison chose them since he adds nothing personal to them, seeming to only want to sound as much as possible like the originals. (Changing Borneo from first person to third person point of view does not count as personalization.) Robison even does an almost pitch-perfect imitation of Bob Dylan on When I Paint My Masterpiece. (If such an adjective can be used in a sentence referencing Bob Dylan.)
If you’re not familiar with Ry Cooder’s The Girls From Texas or The Band’s Look Out Cleveland and you’re too lazy to track down the originals, you might be satisfied with Robison’s versions, but if he’s not going to do anything to make them his own he should probably stick to even more obscure oldies like Patty McBride or the songs like Monte Carlo or Brand New Me that his siblings Bruce Robison and Robyn Ludwick penned. That family connection seems to supply the only trace of elan on “High Life.”