Bruce Robison's new album has a few good songs about those old country staples of heartbreak and regret. Unfortunately, the production (all done by Robison) is about as exciting as recent Claritin-D commercials starring him and wife Kelly Willis. Though the Austin musician loads Eleven Stories with considerable filler, Robison proves himself as capable a songwriter as ever. "All Over But the Cryin'"--not to be confused with the Hank Williams Jr., Georgia Satellites or Garbage tracks with the same or similar titles--is a duet with Willis that details the aftermath of a failing relationship, comparing love to a battlefield: "The lights go down, the charge is done/The battle is over, and the other side won." The strongest track is "The Days Go By," written from the perspective of a homeless man reflecting on his better days and the circumstances that led to his plight. The song is sympathetic without being maudlin or preachy, as the narrator confesses his addictions and mental illness in a matter-of-fact tone.
Robison is most honest--perhaps unintentionally--on "I Never Fly," about a dreamer who watches the world go by without making any effort. Here, he inadvertently admits the biggest problem with Eleven Stories; the music is so polished, clean and safe that it's completely forgettable. Too bad, because the compelling characters in these Stories deserve equally memorable music. Bruce could learn a thing or two from older brother Charlie, whose raucous romps like "John O'Reilly" and "My Hometown" are far more enjoyable songs, rough edges and all.