Robbie Fulks | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chicagoan Robbie Fulks is often tagged as an alt-country artist, but unlike a lot of his peers he doesn't reject mainstream country wholesale. He has his problems with Nashville, a place he got to know firsthand as a songwriter in the early 90s, but he's never lost his deep and abiding love for its history, and on his terrific new album, Georgia Hard (Yep Roc), he tips his hat to the much-maligned 70s--pedal steels, electric pianos, and all. Few songwriters lampoon the excess and dunderheadedness of country music with more precision, wit, and style than Fulks, but he's even better when he's being earnest. There are a few examples of his usual acid-tongued humor: "I'm Gonna Take You Home (and Make You Like Me)" is a withering portrait of a clueless womanizer, and on "Countrier Than Thou" he nastily lambastes stereotypes of southern hicks and cultivated Yankees. But the core of the record is made up of poignant stories about human weaknesses and the havoc they create, which Fulks tells with shades of the same spot-on humor. On the countrypolitan tune "Leave It to a Loser," the narrator gives up his perfect mate to indulge his appetite for one-night stands, and both "Doin' Right (for All the Wrong Reasons)" and "If They Could Only See Me Now" reveal the downsides of marrying for money. Like previous albums, Georgia Hard has its share of genre exercises, and that kind of pursuit usually carries a whiff of dilettantism. But no matter how cynical or smart-alecky Fulks gets, he doesn't lose sight of what works best for the song. I sometimes get angry that the world hasn't made him a millionaire, but I'm grateful that there are regular opportunities to hear him on smaller stages around town, where he consistently delivers nonchalantly brilliant performances. Sat 6/11, 6 PM, Center Stage, Andersonville Midsommarfest, Clark and Berwyn, 773-665-4682, $5, All ages; and 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, with openers Hawk and the Outlaw Family Band, $10. Oh yeah--and on Monday Fulks sings the national anthem at Sox Park.

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