Bruce Robison has been making music professionally for decades. He still discusses his craft with so much enthusiasm he sounds almost like a kid raving about superheroes. That infectious energy is evident in every note of his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, as well as his new project, The Next Waltz, a blossoming community of artists, fans and friends gathering both virtually and at his recording studio in Lockhart, just outside of Austin.
In both cases, the point is to celebrate country music’s rich traditions while giving creativity free rein to go where it might, as long as it’s somewhere worth traveling. It’s also about celebrating Robison’s “love of the craft of song.”
“Writing is where it all starts for me,” he explains. “Whether it’s my writing, or songs I want to do with somebody else. I love the mechanics of it; how simple it can be.”
Keeping it simple — and organic — was the guiding principle behind the latest album, a collection of Robison originals, co-writes and covers that capture country’s most beloved stylistic elements: good-time, lighthearted romps (“Rock and Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”; “Paid My Dues”) and wistful, sometimes bittersweet ballads (“Long Time Coming”; “Still Doin’ Time”). But even the Who’s “Squeezebox” — which Robison calls “a great country song by some English dudes” — shows up, in a lively version dressed with cajun fiddle by Warren Hood and acoustic guitar and harmonies by Robison’s wife, Kelly Willis.
Hood is one of a hand-picked crew of regulars tapped for Next Waltz recording sessions with Jerry Jeff Walker, Randy Rogers, Jack Ingram, Rodney Crowell, Willis, Hayes Carll, Turnpike Troubadours, Sunny Sweeney, Reckless Kelly and others. They’ve re-imagined favorites, reinvigorated covers and even crafted new works, which Robison shares with audiences on the Next Waltz website and other platforms. Meanwhile, he’s cultivating a house band he hopes might one day be as revered as Stax Records’ Booker T. & the M.G.’s or Muscle Shoals’ Swampers. The Back Porch Band does it old-school, all analog, cutting songs together in one paneled room where “happy accidents and all kinds of things that just feel real,” including sound bleed, are allowed to occur.
“It really brings the players and their own voices, their own styles, into the music,” says Robison. “That’s the kind of vibe I’m trying to get back to.”
Their familiarity breeds an undeniable cohesiveness; a relaxed rapport that comes through not only in the music, but in the casual between-track chatter and laughter that further conveys the convivial atmosphere Robison envisioned for The Next Waltz.
“The music just ends up showing the way,” Robison says. “I always thought that the music coming together in the studio, and just the way a studio works, was the most fascinating part of recording. I want to let people see how cool this process is, and how much it has to do with country music, and how the kind of music that we make is tied to those traditions.”
Next Waltz sessions are documented on video, along with interviews in which Robison, speaking artist-to-artist, often draws out stories journalists don’t. The content is designed to let fans peek behind the curtain to witness the creative process, not only providing unique insights, but tightening their connection to the proverbial unbroken circle of country music.