Robbie Fulks | PHOTO BY STAN GOLOVCHUK
Updated: July 1, 2014 6:12AM
As a devoted practitioner of country music in a blues town, household name status has proven elusive for Chicago’s Robbie Fulks. Nonetheless, the attention generated by last year’s exceptional “Gone Away Backward” album has continued to grow. “I think this last year has seen more steps ahead than the ten before it,” he says. “That’s exciting.”
OnJune 2, Fulks’ intimate residency at The Hideout takes a night off. Instead, he’ll launch the Downtown Sound series’ tenth season with a free concert in Millennium Park. (Fulks also performs at Ravinia on June 21 for A Prairie Home Companion.)
“Gone Away Backward” was recorded live and represents his concerts well, but Fulks doesn’t discount the power of the moment. “Ideally, it’s a form of magic,” he says of his performances. “It just happens once, and then it’s done.”
“Gone Away Backward” has earned praise for Fulks as a songwriter’s songwriter. It includes recession songs like “Where I Fell” and the popular “I’ll Trade You Money for Wine,” which upends the logic behind upward mobility.
“That’s Where I’m From” describes humble roots and rural upbringing. “As a middle-aged person, I’m kind of glad in some ways that I came up like that,” says Fulks. “Having fewer stimuli, fewer and closer friends, and fewer distractions probably aided my imagination.”
Although he often writes poignantly from personal experience, Fulks happily notes that the poison-penned “When You Get to the Bottom” is fiction in a fine country music tradition. “I really love country heartbreak songs,” he says.
Fulks cites Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Porter Wagoner’s version of “The Cold Hard Facts of Life” as classics of the style. “Those are strong influences if you’re doing a three minute, tear-out-your-heart country song,” Fulks says. “‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’” by George Jones is another great one.”
With his ear to the ground, Fulks names Erin Enderlin’s “I Let Her Talk” as a fresh example of the enduring genre.
Monday, Fulks returns to his residency, which is just as likely to emphasize Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick or Bob Dylan as the roots of Fulks’ high lonesome country sound. “It changes every week, and doesn’t focus very much on stuff that I’ve written,” he says. “It keeps me energized and alert to different approaches and ideas.”
After gathering a few thousand new fans at Millennium Park, it may be harder to squeeze into The Hideout.
† Robbie Fulks, with Funeral Bonsai Wedding, 6:30 p.m. June 2, Millennium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E Randolph, free admission (all ages); tinyurl.com/DowntownSound2014. SPOTIFY playlist: http://tinyurl.com/FulksSPOT