Alabama At Night, Baby Rocked Her Dolly, Never Come Home, Sarah Jane, Aunt Peg’s New Old Man, Needed, South Bend Soldiers On, America Is A Hard Religion, A Miracle, Sweet As Sweet Comes, Katy Kay and Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals.
Robbie Fulks was one of Bloodshot’s early roster of artists in the early 1990s when it first set out to stake its place in the ‘alt-country’ market. Being naturally resistant to easy categorisation, he soon set out to explore his wider musical interests but returned to the label in 2013 to record his Gone Away Backward album. This is the follow-up to this album and a better collection of special songs, all beautifully played and produced, you are unlikely to hear all year.
While it is fully rooted in traditional country and bluegrass traditions, at heart Fulks’ restless soul just can’t resist challenging assumptions and inverting expectations as and where he thinks it is required. Using producer Steve Albini, better known for his work with avant-rock acts, is evidence of this, and Albini does a remarkable job of unifying a hand-picked and diverse mix of classy and experienced musicians to deliver the goods here. These include pedal steel guitarist Fats Kaplin, guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz, fiddler Jenny Scheinman and more.
Ultimately however it is very much Fulks and his superior collection of songs that make this such a glorious album. Of the 12 songs included, eleven are Fulks originals, the only cover being a sumptuous reading of Merle Kilgore’s Baby Rocked Her Dolly. Of the rest, they vary from the ultra-traditional bluegrass field-recording sound on America Is A Hard Religion, features just Fulks own banjo accompaniment to his expressive vocals, to the sweet soulful pop sounds of Sweet As Sweet Comes.
Lyrically, these songs all pay witness to Fulks highly developed literate and articulate sensibilities, telling stories and expressing emotions which few other songwriters of any genre can get near. This capability is at its most cutting on the sad and sombre Never Come Home and in the heart-breaking sentiments expressed in Needed, a marvellously subdued piece that cuts to the bone each and every time it is heard.
On Katy Kay, Fulks and the band are back on more traditional rustic country territory, similar to the great sounds that Levon Helm sent out on his later albums, as is the closing track, the six minute Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals, traditional in musical form but lyrically another of Fulks’ unique short stories in a song.
A magnificent album from start to finish. Get it now, we are sure you will agree.
Review Date: June 2016