Few contemporary songwriters understand and appreciate the mechanics of a good song like Robbie Fulks, and even fewer can tweak those conventions as willfully as he can. He’s proven that his talent transcends idiom, with his pop-minded Geffen album Let’s Kill Saturday Night and last year’s eclectic Couples in Trouble, and though his latest offering, 13 Hillbilly Giants, is a collection of country covers, it’s pretty special. Rather than revisit songs by the usual Merles, Hanks, and Bucks, Fulks chose 13 obscurities from a mix of well-known artists (Dolly Parton, Wynn Stewart, Bill Anderson) and shoulda-beens (Jimmy Murphy, Gordon Terry, Dave Rich). Some of the tunes are fairly conventional and some feature genuinely strange narratives, but they’re all undeniably well written, and even though they’re all nominally country, they reflect a good subset of Fulks’s catholic tastes, running from straight-up honky-tonk to rockabilly to bluegrass. They also showcase the singer’s trademark love of the perverse (as he interprets Anderson’s darkly humorous chronicling of his own consumption by the consumption of alcohol on “Cocktails”) and his distaste for beating around the bush (he sings Parton’s morbid song about her dead daughter, “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark,” with stonefaced pathos). For this show Fulks will reunite with the crack band that made the album–guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, bassist Lorne Rall, drummer Gerald Dowd, pianist Joe Terry, backing vocalist Donna Fulks, and fiddler Al Murphy–as well as pedal steel guitarist Paul Carestia to play those songs and others of the era. The great Jean Shepard, a 68-year-old veteran of the real Grand Ole Opry (whose “Act Like a Married Man” is on the Fulks record), and neotraditionalist Gail Davies will both perform sets as well. Saturday, February 2, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Elaine Campbell Moore.