Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
Robbie Fulks is going backwards in more ways that one - not that that's a negative. For starters, he's back with Bloodshot - the label where he released four of his first six albums, but none since "13 Hillbilly Giants' in 2001. Also evident of his coming home feel is that he may hearken back even further to his time with bluegrass band Special Consensus as Fulks opts for an acoustic, often bluegrass sound, sometimes country or folk on these dozen songs.
Fulks sounds a lot more serious here than other efforts with small town life, trying to make a go of it and drinking all a large part of the mix. He makes the serious bent clear on the lead-off I'll Trade You Money for Wine, where money apparently isn't the root of all happiness. There's a lot of looking in the rear view mirror by Fulks. The bluegrass song Long I Ride laments the life of a hard working, but money starved musician compared to the Wall Street folks.
Instead of his country parts boasting about their trucks, farms and swimming holes, Fulks take a far more effective spin on the theme of That's Where I'm From (he's actually from York, Pa.) tender baritone voice in hand with a sense of believability and perhaps vulnerability. Fulks makes it clear he's living in the past with the fine honky tonk ballad When You Get to the Bottom where Fulks sings "You're living like there's no tomorrow I live like there's only yesterday." Fulks also sings of the need to stick to one's muse in Sometimes the Grass is Really Greener, leaving behind record labels and the Big Apple for the Blue Ridge Mountains on the bluegrass tune.
Fulks is ably backed by Robbie Gjersoe mainly on guitar, Jenny Scheinman on fiddle, Mike Bub of Del McCoury's band on banjo and fiddle and Ron Spears on mandolin and fiddle. They spin a few instrumentals (fiddle tunes Pacific Slope and Snake Chapman's Tune, the only ones Fulks did not write), underscoring the point that this is a musical turn for Fulks.
As Fulks turns 50 this year, he shows no signs of slowing down. He's just decided to change things up in more ways than one. He may be going backwards in one sense, but he is not going away.