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Robbie Fulks

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Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a collection of Robbie Fulks’ greatest hits—he’s never had any hits, great or otherwise. The title’s just another joke, and Fulks has tons of those. In the spirit of the country tradition, which he loves so much that he’ll undoubtedly stay broke trying to uphold it, the Chicago-based singer-songwriter uses humor to intensify, and also ridicule, those hurts that cut deepest. The Very Best contains new and unreleased tracks spanning the past 10 years of Fulks’ so-called career, but it doesn’t go down like a doggie bag of inedible goods. Fulks treats country the way a bar band treats the blues, as a broad vortex of all American roots music. “Sleepin’ on the Job of Love” is pure, well-modulated, juke-joint boogie; “Hamilton County Breakdown” is a straight bluegrass jam; and both demonstrate Fulks’ knack for throwing together bands that can kick and buck as well as your grandmother can knit. The funny stuff runs from goofy but good (“That Bangle Girl” is the paean Susanna Hoffs earned so long ago) to cold-eyed: Fulks devotes his tenderest vocal to “I Just Want to Meet the Man,” in which he arrives at his ex’s house to shoot her new lover. Fulks’ voice is too thin for him to ever ascend to the ranks of the haunted crooners whom he clearly admires, although he does find a compatible singing partner in Kelly Willis. On the Fulks-Willis duet “Parallel Bars,” the two get along famously—at least, musically speaking. As the song fades out amid a flurry of steel-guitar lines, Fulks says something stupid, and then Willis calls him an asshole.—Brett Anderson