Column

Best I've Ever Seen

Talking with artists about concerts they'll never forget

Gary Stoller is an award-winning editor, author, and journalist. He's written for USA TODAY and loves Bob Dylan and Blue Rodeo.

Best I've Ever Seen

Talking with artists about concerts they'll never forget

Gary Stoller is an award-winning editor, author, and journalist. He's written for USA TODAY and loves Bob Dylan and Blue Rodeo.

For Robbie Fulks, Humor is a Main Ingredient to the Music

Robbie is wonderfully talented, a fine songwriter and performer, and he certainly brings humor, at times bitingly so, to his music. But for me he's almost too clever too frequently and can border on parody or novelty.  He does have a sly sense of humor, doing Britney Spears' "Not Yet A Woman" without most of the audience realizing it was her song and figuring it out during the last half of the song, and laughing, is one example.

Really? "...for me, almost too clever too frequently"?

Personally, I like that.

I like listening to original music made by people who just might be smarter than I am. Robbie thinks his audience is sharp enough to figure out when he's kidding and when he's serious (or when it's parody or novelty, both of which are recognized and traditional areas of song and literature).

With the ongoing tidal wave of idiotic mainstream country lyrics, he's like a breath of fresh air (to coin a phrase).    

 

 

 

Jack Williams, below, compares Robbie to Richard Thompson which struck me as an odd comparison but maybe there is something to that given your (Jack 2.0) mentioning that Robbie did a cover of Britney Spears. That reminded me that someone on this site posted a live video of Richard Thompson doing a song called "Oops, I Did it Again" which I had never heard of but when the audience immedietly started laughing I looked it up and it turned out to be a Britney Spears song. Who woulda thunk it?

Another Robbie favorite, Cher's "Believe":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yB4GG979qnw

...and of course he has released "Happy", an entire CD of Michael Jackson covers. He loves Michael.

Great artist...extraordinary picker too, though he doesn't show it off all that much...Southmouth is one of my all time favorites...the kiss off to Nashville on that is priceless.   As for NRBQ making a big impression, all of their shows are memorable for one reason or another...Robbie's is just another tale of the absurd...

One of the artists (singer/songwriter) I manage is also a stand-up comic, so it's been interesting to see her balance the two talents.

alyssa360.com

 

I've always loved Robbie.  I just got Upland Stories this week and am looking forward to seeing him (again) in Columbus, Ohio in a couple of weeks.

I was late to the party with respect to Robbie.  Although I'd at least heard of him for years, the first album of his I bought was 2013's Going Away Backwards.    Next was Upland Stories.  I've since made up for lost time, what with a couple of CD's picked up at a live show and making the most of a recent Bloodshot Records sale.  His Upland Stories was my #2 in 2016 and I saw him with a full band shortly after it came out.  It was my favorite live show of last year.  He and his band were firing on all cylinders and yes, he was really funny.

Jack above mentions Robbie's sometimes biting sense of humor.  In that sense (and others), he reminds me of my favorite music artist Richard Thompson.  When playing his and Richard's music at home, I've had similar reactions from my wife and kids.  Something on the order of "that wasn't very nice."  And they wonder why I like to listen to such mean people. 

Robbie is obviously smart and can certainly be acerbic.   First saw him live in the early 90's with a country band, sounded great. Have his first three records and still see him play from time to time.  Rob Gjersoe plays guitar with Robbie, he's a great player who like Robbie ought to be more well known. He plays with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore among others.

"Southmouth" and "Country Love Songs" are fantastic...and funny...hopefully you got those at Bloodshot's sale...his major label (Geffen) record, "Let's Kill Saturday Night" is excellent as well...highly recommended...

 

Those are the three I have, Jim, pretty sure I bought a couple at shows when they came out and Saturday Night at a store.  I was and still am a huge Skeletons fan, they played on his early records and backed him live some, so it all added up well for me. Like you I've always read the liner notes, this discussion made me pull out those three and I saw that Dave Alvin's current bassist, Brad Fordham played on one of them, Lucinda Williams and others too. Speaking of Dave Alvin, I think the last time I saw Robbie live it was a singer/songwriter show at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Dave Alvin was one of the others. I may be confusing shows here but I think it was between legs of one of those music train trips I hope to go on sometime. I forget who else was on stage.

 

Jim, you prompted me to re-listen to Let's Kill Saturday Night after many years. I thought when it came out that the production (he's listed as co-producer with Rick Wall) did him no favors and it struck me that way again last night and on the way to work this morning. Most of the arrangements are busy and it has a mostly generic roots rock sound to it despite quality players. Even the less busy arrangements have a polish to the sound that I found a bit distracting. Some very nice songs hidden in the mix.

I stumbled on this ND review from when the record was new: 

http://nodepression.com/album-review/robbie-fulks-lets-kill-saturday-night

I would agree it was an uneven production, and several of the songs would benefit from more spare or "organic" (I'm beginning to hate that word as a music descriptor) touch...and not every song is a keeper...

Interesting review you dug up...people's reaction to "God Isn't Real" tends to be pretty visceral, as he leaves little doubt about his position...I think it's a great song regardless of whether you believe or not, but obviously, the reviewer either felt he was playing with our deepest fears about the inevitable and/or wasn't being honest...that may say more about the reviewer than it does the artist...but he does give credit for a couple of the best songs too...I don't find the low moments on the record as low as the reviewer, and I actually think the title track sounds fine the way it is...I agree the players get lost in the mix on most of it though...Lou Whitney and Steve Albini both provided a far better soundscape on prior records than Rick Wall does on this one (I know it's a co-production, but so is his work with Albini, and those sound great...the only variable I can see that changes here is Wall)...at any rate, a great artist...that record is the one where most of my friends got onto Robbie...they had to go back and get the Bloodshot stuff...