Upland Stories

On his ninth studio album, Chicago songwriter Robbie Fulks continues an artistic evolution to envy. In the same way a vintage LP dug up from a dusty bin in a garage sounds warm and full of life, Upland Stories sounds apart from many contemporary folk or country records. It’s a sentiment noted immediately in album opener “Alabama at Night,” a contemplative tune distinguished both for being rife with literary undertones and for the gorgeous James Taylor-esque nonchalance of Fulks’ tenor. The literary quotient stems from Fulks having written through a prism of narratives from heroes like James Agee and Flannery O’Connor. The antique patina is courtesy of engineer and fellow Chicagoan Steve Albini, who utilized analog techniques while recording the band on old German microphones. Fulks’ affinity for heart-wrenching storytelling is on display, rendering songs as somber as the ballad-like “Needed” to a kind of protest poetry. Fulks has produced perhaps his finest record to date, and certainly one of the best of 2016.