Over two decades in the music biz, Robbie Fulks has amassed a catalogue of great songs, proven himself a master of styles ranging from honky-tonk to countrypolitan to straight-ahead pop songcraft and turned out one great album after another. But still he flies under the radar, nowhere near as well-known as fellow rootsy singer-songwriters like Rhett Miller or Ryan Adams. I'm afraid the reason for that is disturbingly simple: Robbie Fulks has one wicked sense of humor. Like fellow madcap maestros Spike Jones, Frank Zappa and Ween, Fulks 'knack for a razor-sharp putdown and an unflattering character sketch makes it all too easy to pigeonhole him as someone "who doesn't take it seriously." Revenge, Fulk's new double-disc live album, should finally put a rest to such short-sighted estimations. It's also really funny.
Recorded with a crack backing band in Champaign, Illinois, in September 2006, the album's first disc is a rowdy, raucous affair that swings between supercharged Buck Owens stomps ("Cigarette State," "You Shouldn't Have") and gorgeous barroom weepers ("You Don't Mean It," "The Buck Stops Here") before closing with a killer run-through of the hard rockin 'shoulda-been-a-hit, "Let's Kill Saturday Night." It's a stone sober testament to the musical muscle lurking beneath Fulks 'arched eyebrows.
Disc two, recorded in Fulks 'sweet home Chicago in November of the same year, sets aside the electric guitars and crashing drums for mandolins, acoustics and accordions. But its sparse setting might be an even better showcase for Fulks 'gifts. Tracks like "I Wanna Be Mama'd" and "I Like Being Left Alone" fit some comically misanthropic zingers into gorgeous, folky frames, while "That's a Good Enough Reason" and "President Garfield's Hornpipe/Suza" are crisply beautiful bluegrass stompers. Fulks even throws in a solo cover of Cher's "Believe" that strips away the electro-pop gloss to reveal a bittersweet gem of a song.
Frankly, the 43-year-old Fulks is probably too far into his career to all of a sudden gain the attention he deserves, but the truth is, he's never made an album more deserving of widespread acclaim than Revenge. And did I mention it's also really funny?