Robbie Fulks Upland Stories Album Artwork
| BS 242

Upland Stories

Nominated for two 2017 Grammy Awards: Best Folk Album and Best American Roots Song ("Alabama at Night")

Named one of 2016's best albums by The Guardian, NPR Music, Mojo (UK), Mountain Stage, Rolling Stone, Chicago Tribune, Salon, No Depression and more!

Deluxe LP is on 180-gram vinyl and includes digital download card

Fulks's storytelling through folk and bluegrass music on 'Upland Stories' delivers the quieter, sometimes unsettling truths of humanity.

Full Description

In 1993, a songwriter banging around the Chicago club scene with a twangy voice and dangerous sense of humor caught our attention. We started making records with him, and as part of the first-generation Bloodshot roster, Robbie Fulks helped us define “Alternative Country.” In 2013, after two decades of playing music everywhere from the taverns of southern Illinois to the honky-tonks of northern Norway, from Austin City Limits’s soundstage to the historic Grand Ole Opry, he reunited with us for the highly acclaimed Gone Away Backward.

Upland Stories continues and — with sprinklings of pedal steel, drums, electric guitar, and keyboards — expands the sound of that acoustic set. Fulks’s richly emotional storytelling is illuminated by his instrumental prowess and emotional voice. At 53, he is philosophically reflective, writing “with clear eyes and a full heart” (Ken Tucker, NPR). Don’t get us wrong, his wit is still as quick as his picking; but it’s reflected through the lens of fatherhood, marriage, middle age, and the literary voices he is drawn to and draws from: Flannery O’Connor, Anton Chekhov, Mary Lavin, Frank O’Connor, Javier Marias, James Agee. Three new songs—“Alabama at Night,” “America Is A Hard Religion,” and “A Miracle” — are meditations inspired by Agee’s 1936 trip to Alabama, the sojourn that fueled his furious polemic on American poverty, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s in Virginia and North Carolina, at the edge of the broad “upland” region referenced in the record’s title, also provided depth and detail for Fulks’s songs about the mysteries of memory, the vanishing of cherished things, and the struggles of everyday life. Robbie tries to make songs that offer more than verse-chorus-hook: songs that have space, calmness, unresolved tensions, and the hallmarks of lived experience. This sort of complexity is displayed in “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals,” an intimate folk song from the perspective of a man who has let life’s possibilities pass him by, and in “Never Come Home,” in which a sick man returns to spend his last days among an unwelcoming clan of pious, hard-bitten East Tennesseans.

Accompanying him is an incredible cast. Todd Phillips emerged in the 1970s as bassist in David Grisman’s and Tony Rice’s classic lineups. Frequent Bill Frisell collaborator Jenny Scheinman played violin, as did Shad Cobb (Osborne Brothers, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson). The two Chicagoans on the record are Flatlanders guitarist Robbie Gjersoe and trad-jazz drummer Alex Hall. The multi-faceted utility string wizard Fats Kaplin (Jack White) and legendary avant-gardist Wayne Horvitz (Naked City, Paul Taylor, Zony Mash) complete the extraordinary ensemble. Steve Albini, who began working with Robbie on Halloween night 1986, recorded the group’s live singing and playing on old German mics using a non-automated Neotek board, creating, as he always does, a provocatively unvarnished and analogically resonant stereo image.

Twenty years ago, Robbie’s exuberance for old-school country made a lot of noise. Today, his storytelling through folk and bluegrass music on Upland Stories delivers the quieter, sometimes unsettling truths of humanity.

“Some people get where they hope to in this world. Most of us don’t.” – James Agee

Short Description
  • Producer Steve Albini captures the muscular energy in the room and the tender nuance of Fulks's singing, the erudition of a man who's fully found his balance.

    — NPR
  • The prolific singer-songwriter has never sounded better.

    — SPIN
  • Upland Stories is traditional music with a modern bent, an album that bridges the gap between Fulks’ bluegrass forebears and the legions of No Depression stalwarts who consider him a forebear of their own.

    — SPIN
  • The album delivers yet more evidence that Fulks is one of our greatest living songwriters, and while most traces of his trademark humor are missing here, his ability to convey heartbreaking stories without a whiff of cheap sentiment is ultimately more impressive.

    — Chicago Reader
  • The remarkable work of a songwriter who has transcended his craft to deliver a personal vision that is both poetic and earthbound…In other hands that might sound bleak, but this is a lively album with an open heart.

    — The Guardian (UK)
  • Proving he's one of music's best song craftsmen.

    — Austin Chronicle
  • It's a masterfully played, richly layered look back at America's bad old days (have those days ever ended?) punctuated by almost-just-as-devastating love songs.

    — Fader
  • This is a masterful album, replete with wonderful stories and fully drawn characters.

    — Country Weekly
  • It’s one of his best, a stunner that knocks you out without raising its voice.

    — Magnet
  • Each track brims with the knowledge that existence is rarely ever simply black and white, but instead a complex array of hues.

    — Rolling Stone

Track List

  1. Alabama At Night
  2. Baby Rocked Her Dolly
  3. Never Come Home
  4. Sarah Jane
  5. Aunt Peg's New Old Man
  6. Needed
  7. South Bend Soldiers On
  8. America Is a Hard Religion
  9. A Miracle
  10. Sweet as Sweet Comes
  11. Katy Kay
  12. Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals


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