Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Robbie Fulks - Revenge!

Grade: B

Download - Let's Kill Saturday Night (live)

Most press coverage of Robbie Fulks describes his sound by either tagging it "alt-country" or studiously avoiding the term. I suppose I'm somewhere in between. Though Fulks often has his tongue planted firmly in cheek, this is country music, plain and simple. Despite some post-modern touches ("The Buck starts here," goes one song, "with Hank soon to follow"), Fulks is simply a masterful bluegrass guitarist who plays traditional country music with one hell of a band. He happens to cover Cher once in a while.

Given this reputation, a Robbie Fulks live album was inevitable. Even on record, Fulks' country songs bristle with energy, and his live shows are infamous for his wise-ass banter, cheeky cover choices, and undying showmanship. So why is the two-disc, part-electric, part-acoustic Revenge! a little stale? The main culprit is the setlist, which includes some new songs that don't compare to country-pop barnburners like "Let's Kill Saturday Night," which nicely closes out the first disc. And some live favorites, such as "Tears Only Run One Way" and "She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died)" are missing altogether. Also, though his covers are usually show highlights (one of the best shows I've ever seen included his band's rendition of Michael Jackson's "Black Or White"), the sole cover here is Cher's "Believe," which just doesn't work, despite Fulks' vocoder emulation.

Nonetheless, Fulks' wiseass onstage persona is here in spades ("Smoke 'em if you got 'em, motherfuckers!" he yells before highlight "Cigarette State"), and his guitar chops remain impressive (his fiery solo during "Cigarette State" deserves its own disc). The acoustic section lags, especially since it follows the feverish disc with his band, but it provides some much-needed intimacy.

So let's call it a draw. The lackluster setlist continuously battles with Fulks' charms on Revenge!, which is a shame. If nothing else, the disc will stand as a testament to actually having to be there, and drawing curious music fans to his live shows. He'll be at the Turf on 6/1, and I know I'll be there with beer in hand.

(David Brusie)

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