I am sick to death of popular country music. This new trend of celebrating the Southern uneducated redneck as the American ideal is eating me up inside. I am not normally one of those people who say that I like everything but country music. Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash all hold a special place in my heart and in my CD player. I am specifically talking about this wave of artists who seem to champion the idea that too much thinking gets in the way of a good time, so have a brew, drive your too large pickup truck on the freeway with a big ol’ `merican flag on it, and follow the President no matter what. Somehow, I think that Robbie Fulks agrees with me.
Fulks has been playing a mixture of country, roots, folk and rock from his home base in Chicago, after having been raised in North Carolina and Virginia. The Windy City might not be the be-all center of country music, but that’s just fine for Fulks. He had a brief stint writing under contract for Nashville acts that left a sour taste in his mouth. Rather than the old-time songs about heartbreak and tragedy, Nashville wanted “to bolster people’s upbeat fantasies about themselves and to ply them with pious platitudes about their meager existence.” He then went on to play music of various styles, shunning the type of country music that existed in the mainstream. Georgia Hard represents a return to the original days of country music, the music that was heartwarming, tragic and funny all at the same time.
The album opens with Fulks channeling Roger Miller with “Where There’s A Road,” while “It’s Always Raining Somewhere” and especially its follow-up, “Leave It to a Loser,” one of the best on the album, hearken back to `tear-in-my-beer’ territory. Fulks does have that country twang in his voice, which differentiates him from his elders, but the music is pure old country. The comedic “I’m Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me),” a duet with his wife, is hilariously funny, taking a jab at redneck barflies and then adding a twist joke at the end. When the two interweave and overlap their vocals, country/comedy magic happens.
“Coldwater, Tennessee” plays like a later song from the Eagles, dark and a little eerie. Another comedic tune shows up later in “Countrier than Thou,” an attack on modern country artists and their attempts at making themselves even more white trash than they already are. He even takes a swipe at the President (my kinda guy) when he says “He’s got a ranch with a Stetson, he’s a hip-shootin’ ex-oil king, even talks like Buddy Ebsen, but he’s sittin’ in the West Wing.”
The kind of music that Robbie Fulks plays has been dubbed `countrypolitan,’ an urbanized look at country music, but I find it closer to the original roots of country, the kind that sprung forth from folk and blues, and wasn’t just played in Texas. The cover of Georgia Hard makes a subtle nod to Fulks’ folk-rock leanings. Recognize that coat and scarf and the grainy quality of the photo? If he wasn’t trying to recall images of Bob Dylan on the cover of Blonde on Blonde, I’d be mightily surprised.
Steve Earle- Transcendental Blues
Dwight Yoakam- Hillbilly Deluxe
Roger Miller- The Return of Roger Miller