Bluegrass Vacation could be considered Robbie Fulks‘ return to his roots, both theoretically and in terms of practical purposes. Fulks’ initial entry into singer/songwriter realms was preceded by a stint with Greg Cahill and his band, Special Consensus, but even before that, he found himself entertained and enthralled while accompanying his father to concerts by such singular stars as Doc and Merle Watson, the Earl Scruggs Review, John Hartford, Hot Rize, David Grisman, and any number of others.
That, according to the liner notes accompanying the new album, is what helped Fulks blaze his way into the realms of Americana. In the years since, he’s become one of the most prolific and insightful songwriters of that expansive genre, establishing himself as an shrewd observer whose humor, intelligence, and adept melodies have paved the way for a well-respected career.
A longtime fixture on the roster of Chicago’s insurgent label, Bloodshot Records, Fulks was perfectly at home adhering to the company’s reputation for edge and abandon. However, with his signing to Compass Records, a label that makes a point of revenance to the roots, Fulks’ commitment to cause has no reason to waver.
To that end, he enlists an able cast of fellow travelers, among them, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Chris Eldridge, Ronnie McCoury, Jerry Douglas, Brennen Leigh, and Shad Cobb. Not surprisingly then, practically every song reflects that singular devotion. Longhair Bluegrass and Old Time Music Is Here To Stay are the most obvious examples, but the execution is what brings it all to the fore. Fiddle, banjo and mandolin are well stirred within the realms of One Glass Of Whiskey, while the rousing Backwater Blues, Silverlake Reel, and Let the Old Dog In amp up the energy level at full throttle. At the same time, the emphasis is on authenticity and given the close-knit harmonies of a song like Nashville Blues, the sentiment soars earnestly and evocatively.
Ultimately, Bluegrass Vacation is more than a mere respite. It’s a reboot of sorts, one that brings Fulks back to his beginnings and seminal status. A sweet sojourn, one suspects he may be about to prolong his stay.