When: Thu., Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m. 2013
There are many good living songwriters. But then you hear a new Robbie Fulks record, and you can’t remember who they are. This past week Fulks released the astonishing Gone Away Backward (Bloodshot), his first album of original material in eight years (if you don’t count the download-only 2009 collection 50-Vc. Doberman, which consists of a mind-melting 50 tracks). Most of the songs meditate on small-town life, but without the hokum that usually infects Nashville’s treatments of the subject. In a just world, Alan Jackson or George Strait would hit number one with “That’s Where I’m From,” a story that counts You Can’t Go Home Again among its ancestors—the narrator splits town and does his darnedest to build a life of his own, only to realize after it’s too late that the community he left defines who he is. “Where I Fell” paints a bleak picture of contemporary rural America, describing an abandoned family store as little more than an “outline,” but it’s told from the sympathetic viewpoint of somebody stuck there: “I’d’ve chose a place more fine / But the choice was never mine / So I dwell / Where I fell.” The protagonist of “When You Get to the Bottom” spends his time getting drunk and bitching about the fun his ex is having without him, predicting her downfall and excusing his own excesses to temporarily salve his pain, and the creepy narrator in “Imogene” drinks himself blind while talking to himself about the object of his unrequited obsession (“Things I’ll never tell you / I’ve been doing to you in my mind”). Fulks’s killer band—violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Mike Bub, guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, and mandolinist Ron Spears—moves from old-time styles to bluegrass to raw honky-tonk, and their impeccable playing and even better harmony singing have been sympathetically recorded by Steve Albini. Gone Away Backward may not show off Fulks’s full range—he’d need a 50-song album to even begin to do that—but it’s the most focused, meaningful, and beautiful recording he’s ever made, with his best singing yet. For this in-store Fulks is accompanied by only Scheinman. —Peter Margasak Fulks also plays with a full band at the Old Town School of Folk Music on Fri 9/6 at 8 PM.