Nashville, Tenn. It was a good week to be Bruce Robison.
His "Angry All the Time" was the No. 1 country music song in the nation, as sung by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Singers Brad Paisley, Allison Moorer, David Ball, Keith Urban and Lee Ann Womack had been in the audience at Robison's Nov. 8 show, scouting his songs.
The Dixie Chicks had moved some to tears during the nationally televised Country Music Assn. Awards show on Nov. 7 with "Travelin' Soldier," another Robison tune.
"(The Dixie Chicks) were singing it beautifully, people were enjoying it," Robison said. "And I wrote it. That's just about as good as it gets."
Of little notice
The tall, quiet Texan is standing in line at a Nashville coffeehouse. He's spotted by a music-industry colleague, who congratulates him. Otherwise, one of the hottest songwriters in Nashville goes unnoticed.
Womack, Tyler England, Gary Allan and Garth Brooks have recently recorded his songs. So have two recording artists in his family wife Kelly Willis and brother Charlie Robison (who's married to Dixie Chick Emily Robison).
It's at this exact career point that many songwriters get visions of personal stardom. They reason: "If Tim McGraw can have a No. 1 hit with my song, why not me?"
Though he's just released a wonderful new album, Robison, 35, is headed exactly the other way. He's fine with letting others score the hits with his songs, in return for freedom when recording his own albums.
His new album, "Country Sunshine," with its stark sound, is contemplative and personal. Robison wanted the album, released on his own Boar's Nest Records, to be "Willie Nelson-like lyrics set to Don Williams-like music." He recorded it at a studio where Williams often worked, and with many of the same musicians.
The album's cover illustration mimics one of those mail-order hits collections hawked on late-night television.
"Photo shoots are just like pulling teeth for me," he explained. "I'm not comfortable looking at it, I'm not comfortable doing it, so I had found some art that I wanted to use. It was sort of a tribute to that (1970s) era of country."
"Country Sunshine" has plenty of potential hits for smart singers and producers to pick up on. "What Would Willie Do," a comic tribute to Nelson, has already been recorded by Allan.
On "Can't Get There From Here," the first song on the album, Robison yearns for "a life and an ice-cold beer." He wrote it with Moorer.
"I'm on a road that's going nowhere/Looking for a place where I belong," Robison sings. "The winds pushing me in all directions/and none of them look like home."
Robison says he's tried to write upbeat songs. He has plenty of inspiration from his wife and 10-month-old son. But even when he touches on his son in "Valentine," there's a strong edge of wistful sadness.
"The way I've always seen country music, is it's sad songs but they don't make you feel sad," he said. "I have just never felt comfortable writing real happy songs. We all have to be comfortable in our own shoes."
'The best of all worlds'
Robison was raised in Bandera, Tex., on a ranch that has been in his family for generations. He played basketball in college, before dropping out and moving to Austin to pursue songwriting.
"I was always coming up here (to Nashville) first and foremost and trying to get a (song) publishing deal and get that side of it going," he said. "I started making some records on an independent label, and then I raised some money myself and recorded a record just for my own enjoyment.
"Sony picked up that record and signed me to a deal."
Two albums on Sony subsidiary Lucky Dog didn't sell, but were raided by other singers hungry for good material.
Robison decided he didn't mind letting someone else get the glory.
"I think you have to be honest about the lifestyle you want to lead," he said.
"Who knows about the future? But right now, I like making my albums the way I want to make them, owning them and then getting songs cut. I live in Austin, and come up (to Nashville) to work. It's the best of all worlds."