Robbie Fulks returns to his roots and rediscovers a genre he never truly left behind.
In a very real sense, Robbie Fulks’ exceptional new album Bluegrass Vacation finds one of Americana’s most prolific and profound singer/songwriters coming full circle.
Granted, it hasn’t necessarily been any sort of rapid return. It’s been some 27 years since he made his bow with his ironic and irrepressible debut Country Love Songs, over the course of the 15 solo albums he’s released since never shying away from sharing more than a hint of cynicism, sarcasm and a decidedly sardonic sense of humor. Consequently, it’s rather rare to find him offering up anything that isn’t filtered through an irreverent attitude.
Of course, that stance might have seemed only natural because, until recently, he was aligned with Bloodshot Records, a decidedly insurgent Chicago-based label that’s sadly no longer in existence. His signing to Compass Records, a company with a clear commitment to roots-relevant music and a more traditional template, likely made his return to the sounds that initially inspired him more conducive in terms of fulfilling both his passion and his purpose.
So too, a cast of like-minded, equally effusive bluegrass regulars — Sam Bush, Sierra Hull, Chris Etheridge, Ronnie McCoury, Jerry Douglas, Brennen Leigh and Shad Cobb, among them — allowed him to fully fuel his desire and navigate a masterplan that’s credible and compelling in equal measure.
There’s no shortage of devotion, from the homage to his heritage detailed in ‘Longhair Bluegrass’ and his ode to sounds of a vintage variety in ‘Old Time Music Is Here to Stay,’ to the relentless ramble of fiddle, banjo and mandolin that permeates ‘One Glass Of Whiskey,’ the jaunty ‘Backwater Blues,’ and the rapid-fire hillbilly hoedown ‘Let the Old Dog In’.The rousing ‘Silverlake Reel’ and, the high, lonesome harmonies of ‘Nashville Blues’ seal the deal, while also making it clear that Fulks takes the sentiment seriously, his admiration for the form still effortlessly intact.
Fulks details his seminal history with bluegrass in the album’s liner notes, again leaving no doubt as to his devotion and faithfulness to the form. If it’s not his best album to date, it certainly comes close. So, while Fulks’ catalog is well-stocked with exceptional efforts, it’s also fair to say that Bluegrass Vacation is a preferred destination, one that’s led to another major masterpiece.
8.5 / 10.
Robbie Fulks' 2023 album, Bluegrass Vacation, is released Friday April 7th via Compass Records.
For more country albums being released in 2023 and their release dates, see below: