It would be rude to ask Charlie Robison about his divorce from the Dixie Chicks' Emily Erwin if he hadn't made it the centerpiece of his new album, Beautiful Day.
"As I was writing, I just couldn't act like it wasn't there," he tells CMT.com. Six of the 10 songs are Robison's own compositions. Keith Gattis, Bobby Bare Jr., Charles Bracco and Bruce Springsteen provide the other four. Robison also produced the project.
Brave though the album title sounds, it's obviously ironic -- and more than a little hopeful. Robison sings of the amputated limb that still aches. While he's past the first shockwave of the breakup, he's still in the zone where he desperately wishes it weren't happening.
Listening to the songs in sequence is like watching the running of a hooked fish, which, when the line is slack, can revel in the notion that it's actually free.
The title track attempts to be philosophical about the whole separation thing. "Yellow Blues" pulsates with righteous indignation. "Feelin' Good" and "She's So Fine" are exercises in wishful thinking. And so it goes -- light one minute, dark the next (as summarized most eloquently in Gattis' "Down Again").
Although he continued to perform regularly between recordings, Beautiful Day is Robison's first album in five years. He says he didn't approach it as a vehicle to convey the emotional fallout of his divorce.
"It just became that way," he explains. "I'll always go for a good song before worrying about stuff like [an overall concept]. I could tell when the songs were coming out they were some of the favorite songs I'd written, even though they were about that personal stuff."
Robison admits he wrote the songs as though his ex-wife were looking over his shoulder.
"I definitely envisioned her listening to them," he said. "I kind of felt that if the shoe were on the other foot, she'd be writing about the same thing. The record's not a vindictive one or anything like that. It's written more about me than it is her."
The outside songs, Robison says, were ones he was familiar with before he started recording the album. "It wasn't like I went looking for them," he said. "They were just right there whenever I was thinking about the subject matter."
It is perhaps a measure of Robison's own suffering that the songs never allude to his and Erwin's three children and the effect the divorce might have on them. He says he still spends a lot of time with them at his ranch in Texas.
Overlapping the album's theme of lost love is the dawning awareness of lost youth. "Gotta car full of dents/And a face full of lines," Robison sings in "Middle of the Night." And he ends the album with a sensitive cover of Springsteen's "Racing in the Street," which probes, among other things, an aging man's substitution of action for feeling.
Writing about his pain helped him relieve it, Robison says. "Basically, it was cheaper therapy. Once I got it down on paper and started looking at it kind of as an outside person, I was able to gain perspective on a lot of things.'
Now -- a year after his divorce became final -- Robison says he can listen to his Beautiful Day songs and for "99 percent of the time" feel like they're about someone else.