Robbie Fulks: Revenge!

Robbie Fulks: Revenge!

Robbie Fulks has long been a country-music outsider, but he's no outlaw—he's more like a bluegrass Ben Folds, always good for a hook and a smartass remark. Given an interpreter who looks more like a proper redneck hunk, Fulks' best songs could be country-radio hits. But because of his contrarian nature, Fulks is a country singer without a country, practically by design. While Fulks famously said "Fuck This Town" in reference to Nashville, "Countrier Than Thou" showed he was just as suspicious of the earnest, no-fun alt-country scene. As he sings on one of his newest songs, he likes being left alone.

Which isn't to suggest that he's a challenging listen, or that his funny-sad repertoire requires patience to love; on the contrary, the new double-live album Revenge! cinches his status as one of the best and most likeable country singer-songwriters around. Split into acoustic and electric discs, Revenge! is also divided evenly into fine readings of old songs like "The Buck Starts Here" and mostly terrific new numbers like the irresistibly catchy "Mad At A Girl." Much of the time, it hardly plays like a proper live record—crowd noise, audience sing-alongs, and between-song patter is dialed back to a minimum, making Revenge! feel more like a summation than a stop-gap between studio releases.

It helps that Fulks' new material is as good as the fan favorites. (He's still penning could-be hits—the strongest candidate here is "Fixin' To Fall," which could work for Keith Urban.) Fulks' Achilles heel—occasional smugness—rears its ugly head only once, on a misconceived cover of Cher's "Believe." Otherwise, Fulks justifies being his own island in the country-music scene, and one worth visiting at that.

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