Robbie Fulks has never been an artist that is content to make the same sort of album repeatedly. He is just as comfortable making an album of sad country songs as he is making a rock n roll album with Linda Gail Lewis. That being said, as someone who grew up in North Carolina and Virginia, bluegrass has pretty much always been a part of his story. He puts it this way, “Because of my earliest experiences, I’m stuck with this quirk – I just can’t get comfortable with the Rolling Stones or U2 or hip-hop the way I can get with banjo music.”
That’s a good thing for listeners because his new album Bluegrass Vacation is his first purely bluegrass album. Fulks has always been a strong songwriter who knows how to tell a story. The new album is further proof that Fulks is adept at writing great songs no matter the style.
The album kicks off with “One Glass of Whiskey,” and it is everything that is great about bluegrass. The picking (Wes Corbett on banjo, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Chris Eldridge on guitar) is outstanding. The lyrics tell the story of enjoying the simple things despite living in Los Angeles and also include some of the wit that has long been a part of bluegrass. Fulks sings, “I came to the city with a plan to get rich fast. Next time, I’ll take the money and put the plan last.” The song is only slightly longer than two minutes, but the tempo will get you moving and the lyrics are easy to sing, making this a memorable opening to the album.
Fulks is assisted by other great guests throughout the album. Brennen Leigh sings harmony vocals and Alison Brown plays banjo on “Molly and the Old Man.” Sierra Hull plays mandolin on “Angels Carry Me.” Probably the most fun song with guest musicians is the foot-stomper “Let the Old Dog In.” It would be enough to hear Fulks, McCoury (mandolin), Russ Carson (banjo), Shad Cobb (fiddle), and Jerry Douglas (Dobro) play this one at a breakneck pace. On top of that, you get to hear the exclamations (including one “Awesome!”) and hollers of Fulks in appreciation of the talented players that join him on this tune. If this song doesn’t get you moving, check to see that your heart is still pumping.
No bluegrass album would be complete without an instrumental, and this album has one called “Silverlake Reel.” This one keeps a pretty good tempo that is likely to have you tapping your toes. At the same time, you might just want to sit back and listen to this one with your eyes closed so you can take in all the musical wizardry.
The album closes with “Old Time Music Is Here to Stay,” which is vastly different than the rest of the songs because it features only Fulks on banjo and vocals. It is simple and folky, and you can really get caught up in the story of this song.
Bluegrass Vacation (Compass Records) by Robbie Fulks is an album that can stand next to your favorite bluegrass albums. Whether it’s a slow and solemn tune or an uptempo song made to get you moving, this album gives you the outstanding musicianship, strong stories, and excellent harmonies that you expect from bluegrass artists. Order your copy here.
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Key to the Highway: Robbie Fulks
Credits for the album:
Robbie Fulks – vocals, guitar, banjo
Chris Eldridge – guitar
Dennis Crouch – bass
Wes Corbett – banjo
Ronnie McCoury – mandolin
Shad Cobb – fiddle, banjo
John Cowan – tenor vocal, vocals
Allison Brown – banjo
Scott Simontacchi – mandolin, vocals, guitar
Brennen Leigh – vocals
Missy Raines – bass
Randy Kohrs – tenor vocal
Todd Phillips – bass
Sierra Hull – mandolin
Stuart Duncan – fiddle
Justin Moses – dobro
Sam Bush – mandolin, vocals
Russ Carson – banjo
Jerry Douglas – dobro
David Grier – guitar
Tim O’Brien – mandolin, vocals
Recorded and mixed at The Sound Emporium, Nashville by Dave Sinko, assisted by Skyler Chuckry
Mastered by Randy LeRoy at Tonal Park, Takoma Park, MD