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Fulk's grass is green enough

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., October 13, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Robbie Fulks always played the outsider in the country music world. He never had a particularly high profile, despite a bit of a brush with a major label, and certainly no commercial radio hits to his credit.

But he did fortunately pen a load of high quality songs, and there's always his great stage wit. He has spent most of his recording label on indie side, mainly with Bloodshot Records of Chicago.

And now Fulks may even more of an outlier in the country field. His kind of country - traditional, sometimes honky tonk with reverence for the past - isn't what most folks think of these days. Soon after he took the stage, he told the crowd that his son, Preston, was in the crowd. Fulks acknowledged that it would not come as particularly cool to say your father was a country music singer.

Obviously, Fulks was operating tongue-in-cheek because if his son, a freshman at Berklee College of Music, harbored any misgivings about his father's chosen avocation, he should abandon them.

Fulks simply was about as good as he has ever been. Decked out in overalls, Fulks and his stellar backing trio got the night rolling with the bluegrass of "Sometimes The Grass Is Really Greener."

The tune sparkled with his band comprising of Aaron Till on mandolin, fiddle player Shad Cobb and upright bassist Todd Phillips. Each got a chance to show off their considerable skills, and that was par for the night. Fulks always has had the smarts to pick a high quality backing band, and tonight was no exception.

But the night really belonged to Fulks. His trademark was his sharp sense of humor, which he easily put into song. Singing about a down and out guy in "Rock Bottom, Population 1," the song was one of a number of honky tonkers. The subject matter may be sad, but when you get to the punch line of "population one," you had to smile (the crowd laughed). Ditto for the follow-up "Every Kind of Music But Country," where his woman isn't into what he's doing - musically anyway. But Fulks kept the pace fast and fun.

He later called up opener Amy Fairchild for a well-done duet on "We'll Burn Together" a slow song about an illicit relationship with the Johnny and June thing going on.

Fulks always was his usual humorous, irreverent self on stage, verbally and physically dissing Fiona Apple with whom he played a gig earlier this year in Chicago (he did praise her singing) as well as with such songs as "God Isn't Real," which he said might not go over so well in Omaha.

And then there was the two-song encore where he made up the words as he went along to the first one, about what song he would play from his catalogue. Chances are he's used that shtick before, but it was funny.

That was until he lit into the closing number, the revved up, catchy "Let's Kill Saturday Night," which sounded good any night of the week.

Fulks can sing, write and talk. About the only thing he has never had is a hit, and at 52, well, chances are slim. That's okay because outsider status seemed to work just fine for Fulks. In his niche, his grass is green enough.