Gone Away Backward
Recorded in just a few days, Gone Away Backward might almost be the great Robbie Fulks album. Though it would have some competition. In an age and era where anything that’s not quite rock’n’roll or jazz can be written up – seemingly – as some version, some brand of country music Fulks is one of the few who can claim to have always been peddling a real-deal type of country music, learned from the masters, adding his own wit and wisdom, his own voice.
But Gone Away Backward also feels like something of a comeback, a reminder, it could serve as reintroduction or introduction even – if you’ve never heard Fulks before this is certainly a place to start; a very good place.
I loved 2005’s Georgia Hard that sent me on to other recordings from Fulks. In recent years I’ve made do with the YouTube clips – not a bad place to go, you get to see his instrumental prowess. He turns up in little clubs, plays as a solo act, creates interesting small groupings of like-minded players. And he’s a great player himself. The songs always have the right treatments to house them.
Speaking of – Gone Away Backward hums along right from the start with the infectious I’ll Trade You Money For Wine, imagine Steve Earle and Richard Thompson collaborating on a song – it might (hope to) come out like this. Crisp fiddle, banjo, upright bass and guitar, recorded by buddy Steve Albini – it’s a modern-ish bluegrass sound and feel.
There’s a touch of the acoustic Springsteen material to Fulks’ world-weary worldview, and Earle too, obviously. But the delivery of the words is all Fulks, part Appalachian throwback, part tongue-in-cheek countrypolitan hipster chic. In fact Fulks – still – embodies what might have been best described as a country-hipster spin, that’s before the word was hijacked to sound out disdain for being hipper-than-thou.
Like so many of the greats – Waylon and Willie and Hank and Cash – Fulks can have you whooping and hollerin’ one minute and all but shedding tears in your beers the next. She Took A Lot of Pills (And Died), I Told Her Lies, Parallel Bars – these are the clever songs here. The ones that feel like they could have come from the pen of a prose writer, dashed off only after careful consideration; with that smile-at-the-world smirk and heavy heart that Denis Johnson has mastered.
You get the feeling Fulks will remain some kind of secret – and that probably makes his music all the more rewarding for those that have made the discovery.
This is filled with gems, Long I Ride being just another of many highlights. The whole album a highlight in a catalogue it’s worth picking through. Start here and go your way through it backwards…