Robbie Fulks

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Robbie Fulks

13 Hillbilly Giants (Bloodshot)

Robbie Fulks

Couples in Trouble (Boondoggle)

Robbie Fulks has been selling 13 Hillbilly Giants at his shows for a while now, and it's only recently that Bloodshot put their stamp on it. Culling obscure tunes from the catalogs of Dave Rich, Jimmy Arnold, Dean Shepard, and the like, it's a baker's dozen worth of country weirdness, recorded live and produced by Steve Albini. In terms of material, it's what one would expect from Fulks. Standouts include the starry-eyed ballad "Donna" (originally a Wynn Stewart song), Bill Anderson's "Cocktails," and the morbid "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark," a creepy Porter Wagoner number. Farther 'round the bend are Jimmie Logsdon's "I Wanna Be Mama'd," with Fulks' manic, four-star freakout halfway through, Jimmie Murphy's "We Live a Long Time to Get Old," and the old-school kick of "Lotta Lotta Women," an all-out roadhouse stomp with overamped guitars and pounding piano. Then there's Couples in Trouble. Nobody ever accused the Chicago-based alt.country songwriter of being a one-trick pony, and Couples is certainly a departure from form. His sense of humor has become a hallmark, with each successive album showing a progressively more warped side of Fulks. Not so on Couples; it's the darkest and most serious thing he's done so far. There's a level of maturity and depth to his lyrics that hasn't been broached before; the arrangements are closer to AAA radio than any country or folk vein. "In Bristol Town on One Bright Day" has a Celtic/Appalachian feel that's closer to Fulks' home turf, but that's where the resemblance ends. Strings, horns, pianos, and lush arrangements dominate the rest of the disc, with songs that sound more like Radney Foster than Robbie Fulks. Those expecting to hear the jangle of "That Bangles Girl," the aggressive "Let's Kill Saturday Night," or the honky-tonk twang of "Parallel Bars" won't hear it here. It's a switch all right, one that doesn't always work well. The question is ... where's Robbie Fulks going to head off to next? (Robbie Fulks plays the Saxon Pub on Thursday, Oct. 18.)

(Hillbilly Giants) ***

(Couples) ** .5

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Fulks, Robbie

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