Robbie Fulks

Gone Away Backward

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Part folk, part country, part maverick gadfly, Chicago's Robbie Fulks rode in on the No Depression Americana wave, and given that he is such a finely tuned and smart songwriter, he was both effortlessly a part of that scene and also somehow stood outside of it, a stylistic blend of John Prine and Woody Guthrie, with a little bit of Doc Watson's back-country guitar, and maybe just a dash of Bert Jansch's, tossed in there. Few songwriters have ever taken sharper and more critical aim at Nashville's commercial country factories, and for Fulks, well, his idea of country goes back way before Hank Williams, back to the early years of the previous century when country was the sound of music at house parties and Sunday picnics, on back porches, and in family living rooms, back before the notion of superstardom was ever imagined and invented. Now, 20 some years after he started his career in Chicago, Fulks has returned to the label where it all began, Chicago's own Bloodshot Records. Gone Away Backward is a stark, mostly acoustic and ballad-full album, engineered and produced by Steve Albini, that sounds hushed, urgent, and clear as a bell (showing Albini knows how to make a folk record) even as it sounds like it's a Dust Bowl field recording from a century before, albeit with a finely tuned eye on the inequities that often haunt life in the 21st century. The songs here, save for two traditional instrumentals, the haunting "Snake Chapman's Tune," featuring Jenny Scheinman on fiddle, and "Pacific Slope," which features Robbie Gjersoe's low, rippling electric guitar, are tightly drawn character studies that are universal in their examination of the parts fate, love, bum luck, and unanticipated curve balls play in our lives, whether in this century or the last. The opener, "I'll Trade You Money for Wine," is as universal a song about hard times as any era will ever get, and it sounds as old as the Appalachian hollers themselves, scratchy and urgent. The narcotic-slow and sensual "Imogene," on the other hand, is a love-and-lust ballad that is timeless in its intentions, building sexual tension at such a laconic pace that it sounds a bit like a back-country Leonard Cohen after a night of drinking white lightning moonshine mixed with cough syrup. This is a finely realized album, with a wonderful, you-can-hear-a-pin-drop sound to it, and Fulks' songs are some of the best he's written, showing once again that he has no intention of being anybody's fool.

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