Some pretty cool new releases running the gamut from country to rock ‘n’ twang occupy the Compact Capsules spotlight this week. Leading the charge are a couple of vets of the alt country and roots rock world in Robbie Fulks and Webb Wilder. We also introduce our “Festival Watch” this week to alert folks to music festivals a little off the beaten track, but very worth your while. Let’s get to it.
Yep Roc Records YEP-2101
As demonstrated by prior albums like 13 Hillbilly Giants and The Very Best Of, songs from yesteryear hillbilly music mavericks like Jimmy Murphy, Jumpin’ Bill Carlisle, Frankie “Black Land Farmer” Miller and Moon Mullican are just as relevant in Robbie Fulks’ world of country music as are works from equally maverick-like songwriters such as Shel Silverstein and Roger Miller. Perhaps no project demonstrated his respect for the hardcore brand of honky tonk than last year’s superb Johnny Paycheck tribute Touch My Heart (Sugar Hill Records) which Fulks spearheaded. Whereas you may not find a Silverstein or Miller track on any of Fulks’ six albums, his own songs have always embodied the spirit of those two tunesmiths each of whom could go against the grain as much as with it. While there have been albums from Fulks the last few years, it seems like a dog’s age since we’ve had a new release of entirely original material. Four years to be exact and that album was Couples In Trouble which was a decidedly non-country collection of songs. On the country side of the songwriting equation, you have to go all the way back to 1999’s The Very Best Of Robbie Fulks (Bloodshot Records) for an album’s worth of original material. That half-dozen year drought comes to an end with the release of Georgia Hard, an album mired deep in all things country. His first release for upstart indie label Yep Roc Records, the generous, 15-song affair finds the Chicago-based talent running the non-commercial country music gamut. Fulks takes the listener from the sweet tones of the radio-ready title track to the hillbilly hijinks of “I’m Gonna Take You Home (And Make You Like Me)” which features his wife Donna and is a page out of The Carlisles lore to the moving balladry of “Coldwater, Tennessee”. From there it’s onto the joyous celebration of “Countrier Than Thou”, the “short-stay rate” honky tonk bliss of “All You Can Cheat” as well as such similarly-styled barroom jukebox beauties like “Each Night I Try” and “Doin’ Right (For All the Wrong Reasons)” all of which also score big points in this camp. Produced by Fulks, Georgia Hard features a who’s who of players on the supporting end including pedal steel great Lloyd Green who graced many of the late Mr. Paycheck’s classic country sides, mandolin ace Sam Bush, Hank Singer on the fiddle, Allison Brown on banjo, and Merle Haggard sideman Redd Volkaert on guitar who Fulks lets step into the spotlight on the next to last track on the album with the country swing instrumental “Right On Redd”. It’s all only icing on the cake to what to these ears is as good as an out-of-the-mainstream country record as you’re likely to encounter. Recommended. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or www.yeproc.com)
Robbie Fulks appears at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge on Thursday, June 2. TT’s is located at 10 Brookline Street. Call (617) 492-BEAR for information.
Landslide Records LDCD-1030
If you’re an XM Satellite Radio subscriber and happen to have caught the cutting edge X Country channel, you’re probably familiar with Webb Wilder who is one of a revolving cast of hosts for that station which pays heed as much to the roots as it does the new-fangled, alternative stuff. Whereas DJ duties may be relatively new to Wilder, making records certainly is not. Recent years, however, eight to be exact, have seen the rock and roller Wilder hit a bit of a dry spell as far as recordings are concerned. His first release since 1996’s Acres of Suede, Wilder is back in a big time way with the brand new, appropriately titled About Time. A performer not far removed from such bar band favorites as Bill Kirchen and NRBQ, let’s just say that any album that blasts off with a cover of the 1958 Big Al Downing barn burner “Down On the Farm”, later on delivers numbers like “Jimmy Reed Is the King of Rock and Roll” and “Miss Missy From Ol’ Hong Kong”, and offers up enough deep, twangy riffs and hooks to give even a Duane Eddy the shakes is about as roadhouse-ready as it gets. Self-described as “The Last of the Full Grown Men”, Wilder’s albums have always been celebrations, skewed ones at that, of good times rock and roll. About Time is no exception to the Wilder credo established on his 1987 debut It Came From Nashville and which as the 15 tracks comprising this new one clearly attest is still going strong here in 2005. Produced by long-time collaborator R.S. Field, be it fast ones or slow ones, melody and high spirits are all over About Time as Wilder once again lets the good times roll. (Landslide Records, P.O. Box 20387, Atlanta, GA 30325, or www.landsliderecords.com)
Lots of times the best way to find out about a festival is plain old word of mouth. Such word of mouth is all good about the Fred Eaglesmith Weekend, also known as the Roots On the River Festival, which happens each June in Bellows Falls, Vermont. This year marks the sixth annual event and it all happens June 9 – 12. Still considered one of those diamond in the rough events, the performing lineup is an impressive one featuring over 40 roots music performers including Chris Whitley, James McMurtry, The Mammals, Lynn Miles, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, Texan Hayes Carll, Lynn Miles, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, Mary Gauthier, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Washboard Hank, and host artist Fred Eaglesmith who will perform in a variety of band configurations over the course of the weekend. A relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere, one of the beauties of the Roots On the River Festival is the varying locales the events take place during the weekend. Festivities begin on Thursday evening with the “New Faces Night” show at the Everyday Inn in Bellows Falls. Performers that evening include Austin legends Vince Bell and Troy Campbell along with Rod Picott and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals with music beginning at 6 pm. Friday’s festivities begin at 1 pm at the Newberry Building On the Square with an art show and performance by Mr. Eaglesmith. A free, late afternoon concert follows at 4 pm at the Bellows Falls Farmers Market with Hayes Carll and Washboard Hank. That evening, the Everyday Inn is once again the place to be with a show billed as “Night of the Living Fred”. Saturday is the big event with the Roots on the River show, also at the Everyday Inn, with music beginning at noon. It’s a tented show with the lineup for the day in order of appearance Washboard Hank, Lynn Miles, Chris Whitley, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, Hayes Carll, The Mammals, Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, James McMurtry & The Heartless Bastards, and Fred Eaglesmith & the Flying Squirrels. The festival concludes on Sunday as action moves to the 200-year-old Rockingham Meeting House for an all-acoustic show staring at noon featuring Mary Gauthier and Fred Eaglesmith & the Flathead Noodlers. Roots on the River takes place rain or shine (Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are tented, while Sunday’s concert takes place in the 200-year-old Rockingham Meeting House). Bellows Falls is located just off Interstate 91 at Exit 6. Ticket prices are quite reasonable (a weekend pass for four days of music is $79 while day tickets range from $25 to $35), the food is inexpensive and the parking is free. Kids under twelve are half price at door only; babes in arms free. For more information, call 802-463-3669 or visit www.rootsontheriver.com.