Skip to content

Robbie Fulks’ “Upland Stories” Reviewed


Robbie Fulks has been releasing albums for twenty years, but it’s only within the past few that he has truly harnessed and disciplined his enormous talents. I mean, his Top Five bestselling downloads on iTunes are the satirical “Fountains of Wayne Hotline,” the anti-Nashville “Fuck This Town,” the major label released death wish of “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” the tear in your beer spoof “She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died),” and the Western swing hustler of “I Told Her Lies.” While he still appreciates a good laugh, Fulks has grown into a major artist with a sense of history, a strong literary sensibility, and an empathetic eye.

While at times I hear hints of Loudon Wainwright III, Van Morrison, and James Taylor on this album, musically it’s firmly within the Appalachian folk/pre-honky tonk country tradition. Fulks, who spent part of his youth in North Carolina and Virginia, isn’t using this instrumentation as a caricature, he’s extending a tradition. Despite the light hearted love jig of “Katy Kay” and the fiddling, late life second husband of “Aunt Peg’s New Old Man,” it’s a decidedly heavy record that steeped in the South, both musically and lyrically. It’s not a record of judgment, but one of examination.

Three songs were inspired by the work of James Agee, best known for his partnership with photographer Walker Evans that resulted in the book Now Let Us Praise Famous Men. That 1941 release documented the lives of Alabama sharecroppers, both white and black families, and the opening song, “Alabama at Night,” is a poetic look at the emotions that may have taken place during that journey. The other Agee inspired songs, “America is a Hard Religion” and “The Miracle,” take a deeper look at oppression and difficult economic/class structure realities, without being didactic or delving into agitprop.

Fulks works in the singer/songwriter tradition in that many of these songs are short stories set to music. In “Baby Rocked Her Dolly,” a nursing home widower is comforted by memories of his young family. “Never Come Home” reveals a darker look at mortality – a man dying of cancer returns to his roots to find his presence palpably unwelcome. “Needed” is an emotionally complicated song about maturity, responsibility, and love that warns of the damage of “shallow freedoms.” In “South Bend Soldiers On,” a surviving father chronicles his life and the ones of others that have lost loved ones in war.

From the standpoint of artistic accomplishment, this album is as good as people pretended the last Jason Isbell album was. Fulks uses the narrative form to examine emotions, motives, quirks, and desires. It’s heavy mental folk. Turn it up to eleven.

Grade – A

Leave a Comment


Support Let Me Help Inc by shopping at

TaylorSwift’s “The Era Tour” Reaches MetLife Arena, May 28th, 2023, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 29, 2023 |

tried way too hard and ended up a crushing bore

US Top Ten Albums Tracking 5-19-23 – 5-25-23

By Iman Lababedi | May 29, 2023 |

Morgan is the first country star with twelve consecutive weeks at # 1 since Billy Ray Cyrus 30 years ago

Sneak Peaks: Upcoming New Album Releases 6-2-23 – 6-8-23

By Iman Lababedi | May 28, 2023 |

excellent, deeply melodic, indie rock

Going Steady: New Singles 5-26-23 – 6-1-23 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 28, 2023 |

sort of Neil Young without the head cold and in full pop mode.

L.A. Burning, West Coast Concert Picks, May 29th To June 4th

By Alyson Camus | May 28, 2023 |

Grace Jones will be at OUTLOUD Music Fest

UK Top 10 Albums 5-26-23 – 6-1-23

By Iman Lababedi | May 27, 2023 |

outsold the rest of the Official Albums Chart Top 10 combined

UK Top 10 Singles 5-26-23 – 6-1-23

By Iman Lababedi | May 27, 2023 |

an EDM plonker on top

Dead Babies: Helmut Berger And Martin Amis Leave Us

By Iman Lababedi | May 26, 2023 |

about how time decays us

The Early Bird: Top New Recorded Releases 5-26-23 – 6-1-23 Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | May 26, 2023 |

a major slice of bad news

The Cure At The Hollywood Bowl, Wednesday, May 24th, 2023, Reviewed

By Alyson Camus | May 26, 2023 |

The most heart-pulsing moments took us back through the past 45 years.

Scroll To Top