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Robyn Ludwick - Making her own name

You don't want to trade on the family name, but you do want to take advantage of the talents of your older brothers, so you put out a CD under your married name, load up with players from your brothers' bands and your sister-in-law's band (which happens to include your husband), and hire your husband's best friend to produce. What you find out at the end of the day is that on your own, you're pretty dang good at this game, but with family around you, you've only just begun.

That's 33-year-old Robyn Ludwick in a nutshell. She's a Robison through and through, down to Bruce's soulful eyes and Charlie's wide-as-the-Guadalupe smile, and that refreshing Nowhere Else But Bandera How Yew natural ease. Ludwick is the last name of her husband, John, the man she calls Lunch Meat who is better known as the bass player in the bands of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison.

Lunch Meat also happens to have been best friends since the age of 6 with Danny Barnes, the banjo king and producer who took up Robyn's case. Barnes brought in a few non-relatives including Jon Dee Graham, Rich Brotherton, Warren Hood, and Carol Young from the Greencards, creating a comfy, rootsy feel that Alison Krauss would feel at home in.

As for the songs themselves, they make the case that Bruce's keen eye for detail and Charlie's knack for throwing in an inciting "shit" now and then are in the genes, as well as the jeans -- Robyn's are ripped at the knee, and they weren't bought in that condition.

"It was Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a beer joint or a dancehall," she says about growing up Robison in Bandera, a Texas hill country town a couple hours southwest of Austin. "That's where the music was. My grandparents were Dance Every Song folks. I was going to have [western swing great] Adolph Hofner play at my wedding, but he was sick."

Quality time was spent at the Mayan Ranch and other dude ranches that make Bandera the Cowboy Capital of the World. "My mother was a bartender at the Flying L; my father was a coach," Robyn relates, while the kids were "barefoot on the dancefloor playing grabass out front."

It would seem counterintuitive, then, to be Robyn Ludwick instead of Robyn Robison. She thinks otherwise. "I've been a Ludwick almost as long as I've been a Robison," Robyn says over drinks at a hip little coffee joint in downtown Wimberley, a small hill country burg about an hour from Austin that has been her hometown for the past few years. "I've been married since I was 21. That's scary."

It doesn't take long to figure out her own hardheadedness influenced the choice of name on the spine of the CD. "People in my family urged me to go back to that name for obvious reasons. I'm more proud of my brothers than anyone other than my husband and son. Everybody was going to find out sooner or later, but it was real important to me to figure out what people thought, and what I thought of the business, without that."

She likes what she's seen so far. The album generated a small buzz and hit #1 on a Euro Americana chart in Holland; "big in Europe" ain't a bad way to start. She's opened for sis-in-law Kelly Willis at the Birchmere, the storied listening club in northern Virginia where customers are thrown out for talking over the music. She's survived opening for big brother Charlie at Gruene Hall, the historic dancehall near New Braunfels, and fared well enough with the wild bunch of rowdies he attracts.

She likes being in Wimberley, too. "All these artists, musicians, and hippies -- I love it," she said. "It's a lot like many small towns, except cooler. When I take my vacation, it's to spend three or four days in my backyard."

The Blanco River by her house has provided plenty of inspiration. "After having a kid, getting laid off [she works a day job as a civil engineer], I spent six months down at the river writing the first year I moved here. I finally got serious. I had a lot of stuff to write about."

She recognizes the second go-round is usually tougher, but she's not daunted. "I've got seven or eight songs," she says. "There's some I'm really excited about. I'm a better guitar player and singer than I was that first record."

Once again, she'll have the benefit of two family critics. "Charlie, the funny guy, told me he'd almost gotten all the way through [the first CD]. Charlie and I have that relationship, there's never a serious moment. He'll call me and he'll say, 'Looks like I'm gonna be opening for you soon,' big brother kinda stuff like that. He'll play the devil's advocate. Bruce is a little bit more...'God, that's a great song.'"

No matter what her bubbas say, Robyn Ludwick makes one thing clear: Bruce and Charlie aren't the only Robisons who are players in this game.