800 is a nice round number, and so it is with pleasure that for my 800th post, I present Robbie Fulks' remarkable album, Upland Stories. Fulks has a long and storied career that I'm going to have to investigate. Regardless of where it stands in Fulks' cannon, though, Upland Stories is one of the best albums this year.
Upland Stories takes it title from the region Fulks grew up in Virginia and North Carolina. The songs are folk and country storytelling at their most fundamental: simple, provocative, and richly textured. They call to mind a time and place that I, as a New Yorker with an immigrant in my family's living memory, have a hard time believing ever existed. But unlike modern country songs, which either wag their finger at you for forsaking your "roots," or proudly proclaim their...provincialism, if we're being polite, Fulks's songs are imbued with warmth and empathy. Whether or not you're from a town small enough to gossip about "Aunty Peg's New Old Man," or from a family cold enough to turn you away after returning from the big city, like in "Never Come Home," you'll find yourself feeling deeply for these characters, populating their lives with people and experiences that Fulks never mentions in his songs.
The music itself is gorgeous. Fulks is known as a guitar virtuoso, and his colleagues are certainly in friendly competition. Producer Steve Albini also deserves note for his creation of an album that feels remarkably intimate. The press materials go into the gory details, but suffice to say, Albini went analog but in doing so created a textured listening experience that demands to be heard on vinyl. Overall, Upland Stories is a truly special labor of live that combines expert craftsmanship from all hands with the rarest of all commodities: the truth.
Robbie Fulks -- Official, Purchase from Bloodshot Records