Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories [Bloodshot, 2016]
On his second straight "folk" or even, oh Lordy, "Americana" album, you can tell the producer is once again, oh Lordy, Steve Albini, not just because five tracks have drums on them but because those drums signify tougher arrangements in general. The approach remains quiet, thoughtful--"Needed," the pocket autobiography of a horny youth turned corny man that's the best song Fulks ever wrote, travels on a single voice and two guitars. But note that the only time the album hauls out one of those reassuring finger-picking jams is also the only time it turns comic--the no-sex-please-we're-country "Aunt Peg's New Old Man," an old man who wields his long bow to show his nephew-in-law's Scruggs banjo how music's s'posed to sound. Elsewhere the m.o. is subtler. Hear how Brazilian viola textures the unresolved James Agee tribute "Alabama at Night," how "Baby Rocked Her Dolly" deploys six pieces to evoke a lonely widower reminiscing in his "old folks home," how Jenny Scheinman's fiddle underlines the adjective in "America Is a Hard Religion." The nearest thing to a throwaway is "Sweet as Sweet Comes." Bass and organ provide all the weight it needs. A