Written by James Killen
Robyn Ludwick, little sister to Bruce and Charlie Robeson, one of Texas Music’s greatest dynasties has a new CD coming out called “This Tall to Ride”. Her writing style owes a lot to the influence of Lucinda Williams, but still rings genuine and personal. Her songs have that same rugged, but emotional tough woman style that Lucinda has come to personify. The words are all Robyn’s, though, as she depicts love as an addictive emotion, even comparing it to cocaine and heroin. She doesn’t fall into the “happily ever after” depiction of relationships and the impermanence of love rolls through her songs as a major theme. Ms. Ludwick creates some tragic characters that inhabit her songs and bring a gritty realism to the messages. All of this and David Grissom and Bukka Allen (among others), too.
The first track, “Love You for It”, kicks off with some Grissom power chords and talks of giving in totally to passion to overcome loneliness and is strewn with David Grissom’s leads. Robyn joins Chuck Willis and Johnny Cash with her own composition called “Rock and Roll Shoes”. In this song she compares sex and cocaine as ways to combat that inner hunger for feeling. The song ends repeating the line “Don’t drop the cocaine”, which just begs debate as to what the artist meant by that. Good poetry uses ambiguous phrases that can mean several things at once so that it draws the listener in as an active participant in the art. I’m going on record saying that Ludwick meant that the dangers of cocaine addiction were preferable to the gamble of falling in love and getting hurt by casual sex. As a great poet, Robyn would probably avoid interpreting the line to preserve the ambiguity.
“Lie to Me” is a straight up country tune showing no faith in lasting love and trying to keep the mystery alive in a relationship that is likely to fade away. A guitar “train whistle” introduces “Freight Train” about accepting unrealistic promises to have a one night relationship. The song is spattered with electric and acoustic guitar and piano flourishes creating a country blues anthem.
Robyn inked another country tune with “Bars Ain’t Closin’” about a musician going back on the road at the end of a relationship and combatting the grief and loneliness with alcohol and casual sex. “Insider” describes the life of a young woman that had been sexually abused as a girl trying to build a life and getting caught in a cycle of abuse. The first stanza contains the line “I’m just a dime store mystery, fifty pages in” as if her story is just beginning and the next to the last stanza rephrases the line as “I’m just a dime store mystery, fifty pages thin” as if there will never be anything more than that cycle of abuse to speak of in her life.
“Mexia” starts out with an acoustic guitar that seems to be replicating the tune of a music box. The main character in the song is a girl named Maria that dances with all of the guys. It seems to be written from a suitors perspective who claims to be the “first one to drop a dime in her wishing well” as if he proclaimed his love to her and yet she chooses another suitor. A nice country rock tune, “Wrong Turn Gone” follows “Mexia” about getting past a mistake in a relationship and features electric piano and slide guitar swapping leads.
Robyn Ludwick takes a shot at her own self-image in “Junkies and Clowns”, proclaiming that “If you can find a place in your heart for junkies and clowns, then you’re halfway to believing in me”. The disc’s closing number, ironically named “Texas Jesus”, is about a man using a local prostitute to block his pain. Ludwick compare sex to drugs again using the simile, “she’s like Mexican heroine”.
“This Tall to Ride” is a dark series of songs that play to the pain of relationships and a fruitless struggle to find meaning in life. It’s full of loneliness and lost hope, yet depicts the drive to carry on and live for the good times that interrupt the string of sadness. That said, the songs are artfully written and the music drives home the message. This album is written by a tough woman for those listeners that are strong of heart and take life head on.