If you were going to send a band to a tiny island off the Scottish coast to sample the product of the local distillery and write a batch of songs, the Mekons would be a far better choice than most, given their fondness for drink and their wise if cynical perspective on U.K. history. And if you were going to give them an American sidekick for their busman's holiday, you could hardly do better than Robbie Fulks, the brilliant and witty American singer/songwriter who nearly matches the Mekons for cynicism and love of alcohol.
Since relocating to Chicago in the ‘90s, the members of erstwhile post-punk collective the Mekons have fully ensconced themselves within the esoteric confines of the Windy City’s alt.country scene. Having released nearly a dozen projects under a handful of guises on the city’s bastion for all things subversively country and Americana, Bloodshot Records, Jon Langford and company seem to have pretty much full reign to do whatever they damn well please at this point. Fortunately, this time out they elected to partner up with perennial underdog and former label mate Robbie Fulks for a subtly affecting collection of folk ballads.
So, Bloodshot records label mates Robbie Fulks and (most of) the Mekons went on a tour of Scotland together, stopped off at a tiny fishing island called Jura and recorded an album of a) old sea shanties, and b) songs of theirs that sound just like old sea shanties, possibly while staggeringly drunk. Many alt-country fans will have already downloaded Jura before they've finished reading the above description. For those who haven't, here's more of the appeal: Robbie Fulks is a cranky, hyper-intelligent beanpole who mines centuries of American music to make albums full of songs that can be viciously clever, or hopelessly tender, sometimes both at once.
Post-punk and bluegrass rarely go together. Sure, there are outliers like The Punch Brothers or Trampled by Turtles who play traditional instruments at punk-rock speeds, but the two disparate musical styles don’t have much more of a history together. That’s why Jura, a combination between members of England’s Mekons and American folk musician Robbie Fulks, is such an interesting concept album.
The Mekons and Robbie Fulks — Jura (Bloodshot)“I thought I was a drunk until I met the Mekons.”Robbie FulksIt sounds like a reality show set-up. On a tour through Scotland, twisted country troubadour Robbie Fulks and a good plurality of Mekons took a very iffy inflatable raft ride out to the island of Jura (pop. Around 250). There they spent three windblown, rain-lashed days without modern conveniences (but with a good deal of locally brewed scotch), in wet clothes and badly heated rooms, recording a collection of sea shanties, sea-related songs and old favorites and new material.
Consider Jura an eccentric early Christmas present. Recorded on a boggy, sparsely populated Scottish island of the same name, this limited-edition Black Friday Record Store Day LP came out of a collaboration between British cowpunks Mekons and American alt-country singer Robbie Fulks, who toured the UK together last year. The sound is organic, misty, foggy and unusual.