Robbie Fulks Georgia Hard

Country maverick Robbie Fulks seems to revel in confounding expectations and messing with people’s heads. He’s a gifted singer and songwriter, but is constantly changing his musical colours in a confusingly chameleonic way — no wonder he keeps switching (or being dumped by) record labels (from Bloodshot to Geffen to Yep Roc). Initially active on the Greenwich Village folk and bluegrass circuit, he became part of the Chicago neo-country scene in the mid-’90s. His major label debut, 1998’s Let’s Kill Saturday Night, showed off his acerbic wit and his songwriting talent, but critical raves didn’t translate into sales. Since then, he has released a song cycle album, and produced a tribute to Johnny Paycheck. Georgia Hard is an album inspired by ’70s country and writers like Roger Miller and Shel Silverstein. A problem with Fulks is that it is hard to tell how much he is taking the piss and how much is genuine. The cheesy strings and hokey voice-over approach of "Leave It to a Loser” and the novelty-style female and male bickering on "I’m Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Love Me)” suggest the former, but then he’ll come up with winners like "Each Night I Try”, and the haunting "Coldwater, Tennessee” and "If They Could Only See Me Now.” It is unlikely that Georgia Hard will bring Robbie in from the commercial wilderness, as it’ll be too mainstream country for the alt crowd and too weird for Nashville (Fulks once wrote a song called "Fuck This Town” about Music City). The enigma continues. (Yep Roc)