Robbie Fulks | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Robbie Fulks 

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ROBBIE FULKS

Anyone who's seen Robbie Fulks live knows you can't fence him in: he lives and dies by the song, not the style. Still, to varying extents his albums have all fallen within some set of parameters or another, particularly his first two, on the alt-country label Bloodshot. His best album, and his only one for a major label, 1998's Let's Kill Saturday Night, took him farther afield, adding smart, unabashed pop to the usual folk and country numbers. Recently, fed up with labels of all sorts, Fulks took the money he got from Geffen when it folded and started his own imprint, Boondoggle, which just released Couples in Trouble, a befuddlingly eclectic collection even for Fulks. "In Bristol Town One Bright Day" is a new version of an old-timey original modeled on a British folk tune--it was previously recorded by Sally Timms. "Mad at a Girl" is pure nerd pop a la Elvis Costello. "I've Got to Tell Myself the Truth" is blue-eyed soul, and "Never Could" is a sweet dose of Everly-esque catchiness. Fulks masters all these forms with ease, but his real gift, as an assimilator, is evident in the many genre-neutral tunes. As the album title suggests, all 12 songs paint portraits of pairs in crisis. There's no shortage of conventional romantic strife, but Fulks also details the tensions between a girl and her creepy new stepfather, a man and a memory, and a prostitute and her killer. His lyrics have always been clever, but here they're often brilliant--almost distractingly so. They scan fine musically, but they're so dense and novelistically detailed that they demand additional scrutiny. I still don't think it's as great as the Geffen album, but Couples in Trouble is Fulks's most challenging effort and a resounding confirmation that the best songwriter in town is still getting better. For this CD-release party, Fulks's band will include guitarist Grant Tye, bassist Lorne Rall, pianist Joe Terry, drummer Gerald Dowd, and a horn section. Friday, August 24, 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.

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