Release Date: Aug 27, 2013
Record label: Bloodshot
Always the contentious kind, Robbie Fulks flexes the old Tareyton Cigarettes mode of doing business: “I’d rather fight than switch. ” To that end, he’s remained staunchly Appalachian, long before Americana deemed acoustic roots music its own oeuvre. With Gone Away Backward, he delivers a tour du force of bluegrass-derived spare country.
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.
It's fitting that in his current press bio, Robbie Fulks gets called "an alt-country genius" by Tina Fey. Like her, he's smart and funny, though on early discs he occasionally strayed into smart-ass territory. He has flown a bit under the radar as of late, but he deserves renewed attention with this top-notch outing. Gone Away Backward reunites him with Bloodshot (his first album for that label since 2001) and was recorded and mixed by the renowned Steve Albini.
At this point the Robbie Fulks’ country cred is so beyond reproach that it’s hard to believe that the modifier “alt” could have ever swayed the faithful from his reverent brand twang. But for a guy who just turned 50, what’s so invigorating to observe in Fulks isn’t an adherence to some stuffy notion of orthodoxy, it’s how little he gives a crap about anyone else’s notion of great music other than his own. Although he’ll be forever anchored in sweet tuneful country, he’s dabbled in everything from a unabashedly cheesy powerpop to Top 40 covers to an entire Michael Jackson tribute album.
Robbie Fulks Gone Away Backward (Bloodshot) Although Fulks first gained prominence as part of the Nineties alt-country boom, his iconoclastic attitude and far-ranging songwriting talent allowed him to transcend the limitations of that scene. Gone Away Backward, which marks his return to Bloodshot, largely dispenses with the satirical edge that's long been a key component of Fulks' creative arsenal, instead offering a character-driven, ballad-centric set that's one of his most understated efforts, yet also one of his most urgent. With fellow Chicagoan Steve Albini providing clear production that enhances the immediacy of the acoustic arrangements, Fulks' new tunes sound simultaneously ancient and current.
Considering the rowdy reputation Robbie Fulks has garnered over the years, it’s somewhat surprising to find that the aptly titled Gone Away Backward has him abandoning any hint of insurgent sentiment and focusing instead on more traditional trappings. There’s not a single song here that wouldn’t fit the bill at a bluegrass barn dance or a simple backwoods hoedown. Indeed, Gone Away Backward may also be the best album Fulks has ever produced, if for no other reason than it’s both pure and unfettered.