"Did you hear about big brother? He's the next big thing," sings Bruce Robison on "Valentine," one of Country Sunshine's many portraits of lives drifted or fallen apart. The push may have been made for big bro Charlie, but it's Bruce who has cracked the Nashville code. No, he's not hobnobbing with the New Southern nouveaux riches; no, he hasn't been asked to peddle NASCAR. But the tall, reticent Texas singer songwriter has written one of the year's biggest and best country hits, "Angry All the Time," which even Tim McGraw couldn't render as anything less than grievous and deep. Robison got the call just as his wife, the amazing singer Kelly Willis, became a mother. "There was a message on the machine that Tim McGraw had cut 'Angry All the Time'. I knew that Faith [Hill] had heard the song and liked it, but I never knew they were considering the tune. Most of the things I have going have been from the artist side: Lee Ann Womack picked a song [as have the Dixie Chicks] ... I don't know a damn thing about making billion-selling records, but I'd agree that having the artist really involved in choosing the material is gonna help. It's probably gonna suffer going the other way. I'm real proud of 'Angry All the Time,' but I know that 8,000 people passed on it. I really do feel I can jump to the conclusion that they thought it couldn't succeed in that arena. I think that's a fallacy."With Country Sunshine, Robison has crafted a suite of forsaken Americana, an homage to the spare, open sound of Don Williams' great, neglected '70s recordings and a crystalline statement about just how meaningful mainstream country music can be. With electric piano, fiddle, acoustic guitar and finely brushed drums, Robison both foregrounds his words and melodies and deepens their simple, suffering truths. "Instead of being this big wall of sound, you have to pull back," Robison says. "I'm not the greatest singer; I don't want a big ol' rockin' arrangement. I wanted to leave the lyric right up front ... I sometimes hear records today and I think, 'They don't even like country music; they like pop and rock a lot better, because that's the way the records sound.'"
The way Robison sounds, however, the way he delivers his slyly modest material, shows he knows where country has been and where it might yet go. Fans of his better-known brother and wife, not to mention those who still believe in the truth of songs truly sung, should drop everything to catch him and his fine acoustic combo.