Robbie Fulks Takes New LP Across Musical Spectrum

Rockin' honky-tonker joined with equally eclectic band to record sophomore LP.

Robbie Fulks is fully cognizant of the schizophrenic sound of his major-label debut, Let's Kill Saturday Night.

The singer/guitarist says he was shooting for just that sort of unpredictable feel.

"I was going for no borders on the album. I think I can do four or five things pretty well," said the 35-year-old Fulks, whose album hits store shelves Tuesday (Sept. 15). "There's rock and pop at one end, and hard-core honky-tonk on the other. I feel like I can move freely around within that broad continuum. I tried to think of a record that was too various for my tastes. The most diverse album I could think of was the Beatles' White Album and that really doesn't lose me."

The diverse sound didn't really lose acclaimed singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams either. Williams, who joined forces with Fulks in Nashville, Tenn., on the tune "Pretty Little Poison" (RealAudio excerpt), was just one of the guests Fulks invited to record with his band, comprised of guitarist/steel guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, bassist Lorne Rall, drummer Dan Massey and frequent keyboardist Joe Terry, of Skeletons fame. Additional appearances were made by Al Anderson (NRBQ), Bill Lloyd (Foster and Lloyd), mandolin player Sam Bush (New Grass Revival) and pedal-steel legend John Hughey (Conway Twitty, Vince Gill).

"To me, it's really cool. It evokes sort-of a John Lennon feel to me," Williams said of the song she and Fulks worked on together. "It's real passionate. I sang harmony; it's more like a duet kind-of thing. I sang part of one of the verses."

Taking a circuitous route into his recording career, Fulks previously played in a bluegrass band in the '80s and taught music at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, before recording his 1996 debut, Country Love Songs, with no-frills all-star recorder Steve Albini.

Ranging from the honky-tonk that typified his two previous releases, Country Love Songs and South Mouth, on songs such as "You Shouldn't Have" and "Can't Win For Losing You," to the good-time rock of "Let's Kill Saturday Night" (RealAudio excerpt), Fulks demonstrates a rich songwriting background.

He seems to be as comfortable with the down-home flat-picking of guitarist Doc Watson as he is with the legendary eclectic pop stylings of the Beatles. The result is an experimental sampling of 13 tracks that dabble in varied styles while mixing and merging genres.

A tendency for genre-bending seems to suit drummer Massey just fine.

"[Fulks] doesn't try to create some kind of category and only do that style of song," Massey said. "I never know what he's going to show up with. I've been in bands before with songwriters who'd write a great song, play it for you, but then say, 'I don't think it's right for this band.' Robbie writes a great song and we do it."

Although self-conscious of writing lyrics too obviously designed to tell a story, Fulks uses "Take Me To The Paradise" to sketch the scene of a bar littered with former somebodies coasting on past glories. His tune "Little King" is a vehicle to sing about what happens when you outgrow your heroes.

"It's a story about the kind of guy you look up to when you're a teen-ager, a guy that seems romantic and glorious, bound to be dead by 24," Fulks said. "And you get older and realize it was just kind-of a pose, whether it was a knowing pose or not, and he grows up to be a semi-obese guy."