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Robbie Fulks

ANYONE LUCKY ENOUGH to catch twisted alt-country maven Fulks being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR recently got treated to an earful. On full display were Fulks' vitriolic fuck-Nashville sentiments (clearly justified, as Fulks near about ground himself up in the town's songwriting mill), his particularly twisted spin on what passes, surface-wise, for traditional country and honky-tonk music (the man's a genius, but his cynicism and dark humor perpetually surfaces), and even a unexpected cover or two (demonstrating how smelly cheese can be turned into rich cream, he recast Abba's "Dancing Queen" as a heartbreaking acoustic ballad). For those who missed the broadcast or haven't heard Fulks' previous efforts (one, Let's Kill Saturday Night, marked a blink-you-missed-it stint on Geffen) -- and especially if you're sick of the local media's incessant, embarrassing fawning over every sappy country-pop shitslinger that comes to town -- he's got a greatest hits package just for you.

Well, sort of. Despite these 14 songs bearing original album credits like Adultery For Beginners, I Loathe My Fans and Don't Knock My Boots! All-Night Top Cowboy Party Music Live In Norway, they're all new compositions. But great introductions to the world o' Fulks just the same. The music, of course, is spot on, from the Western swing of "Love Ain't Nothin' " and the tears 'n' whiskey pedal steel balladry of "I Just Want To Meet The Man" to the straight-up, beatifically twangy Gram Parsons stylings of "Jean Arthur" and the rumble-in-the-roadhouse swingin' rockabilly of "Roots Rock Weirdos." Yet as that last title might suggest, Fulks' has a few things on his mind. In "Weirdos" he basically sends up the entire genre that his record label has unflaggingly championed, while "Parallel Bars" employs a heretofore overlooked metaphor to sketch the eternal male-female condition (that's Kelly Willis giving her side of the story, by the way). And in one of the finest tales of obsession ever penned, "That Bangle Girl" (from the LP Hoffsapalooza!, natch), Fulks promises his love and, uh, other stuff to sweet Susanna while his backing band The Skeletons stalk like Egyptians. I'm not gonna give away the John Denver joke here, but suffice to say, your life's not complete without it.

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