Alt. Country Pioneer Shows the Kids How It Should Be Done!
The ‘Best Of’ Robbie Fulks, purchased at Goldrush Records in Perth, Scotland (£7.99) in 2000 was one of the very first Alt. Country albums I bought. That sadly long gone shop had one rack of obscure albums labelled ‘Not Country’ and I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame on my monthly visit to that beautiful city.
Even though I’ve listened to 1,000 or more albums in that genre since that day; I still go to that album every few months and still find new things to love about Fulks songwriting and delivery.
Which all brings us to his latest offering Upland Stories; not quite a ‘concept album’ but a series of complex stories about a slowly vanishing part of America and the people who inhabit it.
First of all; it sounds nothing like that slightly humorous album; but then again no two of his albums ever do; as he keeps re-inventing himself.
A new song, Alabama at Night opens the album and the simple arrangement allows Fulk’s lovely voice to dominate proceedings and the listener to become part of the story.
Fulks looks back through the eyes and heart of a weary man on the bonny Sarah Jane and the intensely intimate Needed; which could be the finest Folk song of the modern era.
While no lover of traditional Bluegrass; I have learnt to love Aunt Pegs New Old Man. The musicianship is pin sharp; with the fiddle and banjo making a sound louder than Zeppelin in their full majesty; but it’s the song itself that will be remembered for years to come; especially as the character in the song sounds quite a character!
At times I found myself wondering if this was actually a soundtrack album, as he seamlessly divides the songs between Folk and Bluegrass with Fulks proving that time hasn’t even come close to diminishing his writing skills on songs like A Miracle and the haunting Never Come Home, which uses a pedal-steel to sound like a cold, cold wind in the background.
Upland Stories is an album that demands your full attention; and needs to be listened to over and over again to get the most from it; and that investment is well worth it when you hear the depth in Sweet as Sweet Comes; probably my favourite song here and one I hope I will never tire of hearing.
Even the song that closes the album, Fare Thee Well Carolina Gals isn’t as jaunty as the title would suggest. It was certainly a contender for ‘best in show’ as it is almost cinematic the way Robbie tells his tale and describes the characters involved; which is a rare talent indeed.
It would be difficult to actually say this is Robbie Fulks ‘best ever album’ as each has been so different; but it’s as good as he’s recorded in the last 10 years; that’s for sure.
Released April 1st 2016
Can I also recommend this interview with Robbie Fulks by Otis Gibbs?