Robbie Fulks
Upland Stories
Bloodshot Records, 2016

Regrettably, I don’t think I have ever seen Fulks in concert, though I really need to.  While he isn’t a songwriting factory like Ryan Adams (though brilliant a factory he is), Fulks is a great songwriter, and I am happy to see he continues to create.  While most may not remember this, one of my favorite tunes is “F*ck This Town” chronicling his experience as a singer-songwriter in Nashville and their lack of appreciation of his talents.  He was originally signed to Bloodshot early on, and left with great fanfare to a major label.  After releasing one album on an unappreciative major label, he returned to Bloodshot and has never left.

In 2016, Fulks is still telling vivid stories.  To be fair, I have a few musical friends that reviewers describe as natural storytellers, like my friend Glenna Bell, but I don’t know if listeners experience music the same way that I always seem to, with pictures, with vivid imagery.  For me that’s poetry and it’s normal, and with Fulks, its natural.  Alabama at Night” evokes the water of the Delta as well as a red-tailed hawk, as if we are traveling by air, flying, alighting at a roadhouse for a rest, a beer, and a meal.  The locals are quiet as we explore from one end of the state to explore.  The air is cooler than warm and peaceful.

“Never Come Home” is a story that plays on a familiar theme of returning home from prison, drifting apart, neighborhood gossip, and breaking apart.  This is land that Fulks knows too well and tells viscerally, brilliantly, subtly, and painfully, perhaps better than anyone in music at the moment.  “Needed” returns Fulks to his youth and a lost love, a love that returns to us in small moments when someone triggers a smell, a play of light, a smile, a word.  The memory is at once bittersweet, beautiful, and powerful.  While looking backwards, it pushes us forward.  Memories are weird like that.

“America is Hard Religion” is sparse with violin and banjo.  In 2016 with all that is happening politically, it’s not hard to read yourself between the lines, though he may not have intended it thus.  Nonetheless, like the land that was stolen from First Nations who died for it, this land has left its mark on all of us.  Some of us accept it as conservatives wanting to keep it for ourselves and as feminists, unlike our forefathers, admitting those that bought the international media propaganda and decided to come here to better their lives and the lives of their families.

There will be more albums from Fulks and hopefully concerts, but it’s difficult to believe that there will ever be a bad album with the creative arts that flow through him and the control he has over his output.

8 May 2016

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