Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Robbie Fulks

  • Country Love Songs [Bloodshot, 1996] *
  • South Mouth [Bloodshot, 1998] *
  • Let's Kill Saturday Night [Geffen, 1998] *
  • The Very Best of Robbie Fulks [Bloodshot, 1999] Choice Cuts
  • Georgia Hard [Yep Roc, 2005] A-
  • Revenge! [Yep Roc, 2007] **
  • Happy [Boondoggle, 2010] *
  • Gone Away Backward [Bloodshot, 2013] A-
  • Upland Stories [Bloodshot, 2016] A

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Country Love Songs [Bloodshot, 1996]
honky tonk gems without the (choose one) soul/voice/context (soul) ("(I Love) Nickels and Dimes," "The Buck Stops Here") *

South Mouth [Bloodshot, 1998]
In the great tradition of Dwight "Little Man Whose Name Is Saul" Yoakam (and Steve "Jap Guitar" Earle), he vows to deliver Nashville from the dread "faggot in a hat" ("Dirty-Mouthed Flo," "Fuck This Town"). *

Let's Kill Saturday Night [Geffen, 1998]
"For a life of devotion the death blow He deals/We owe Him only hatred, but God isn't real" ("God Isn't Real," "Pretty Little Poison"). *

The Very Best of Robbie Fulks [Bloodshot, 1999]
"Roots Rock Weirdoes" Choice Cuts

Georgia Hard [Yep Roc, 2005]
Vocally, he's neither here nor there--by the standards of Jay Farrar, Trace Adkins, but by the standards of Trace Adkins, Todd Snider--and as a writer he's caught between Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and Columbia University, where he's spent more time. He has a lit major's love for Music Row convention: "Some people say a real hard woman's good to find," or the evolution of the "they" in "If They Could Only See Me Now" from the parents who didn't want him to marry above his station to the kids he can't see after he murders their mama. Because he doesn't have the physical equipment to put his formal hyperbole over the top, his novelties connect first--"I'm Going to Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)," featuring his wife Donna, and the first recorded use of the word gemutlichkeit in a country song, and "Countrier Than Thou," featuring an Oh! Brother fan from Boston and GWB from Austin. But on this record the writing is so consistent that eventually it makes emotional sense--the cheating songs and the drinking songs and the faux gothic songs are set pieces he puts his gumption into, softened by a pastoral nostalgia that's so lyrical you want to take a ride in the country yourself. A-

Revenge! [Yep Roc, 2007]
"Springfield, Salt Lake, Champaign-Urbana/Farmer City, Fairbanks, Gary Indiana/West to east Portland all across the land/We're never home. We're gone. What is it that we're on?/We're on the road" ("The Cigarette State," "The Buck Starts Here") **

Happy [Boondoggle, 2010]
Michael Jackson covers front to back, and why the hell not, but n.b.--the tribute comes easier when he isn't compelled to negotiate the funk ("The Girl Is Mine," "Mama's Pearl") *

Gone Away Backward [Bloodshot, 2013]
Lest you suspect that Fulks has fallen victim to loser mythology, "Where I Fell" at track two leads to "That's Where I'm From" at track four. First one's a politico-economically sapient tale of drinking won't kill you and rust never sleeps, the second the reflections of a night-school whiz who's climbed from dirt roads and double-wides to two cars and a picket fence--he's sure he did right, proud even, but he also has regrets. You think maybe Luke Bryan would cover this diptych? How about either half of it? Me neither. Oh well--Fulks sings better than Bryan anyway. A-

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