Robbie Fulks / Ray Mason Band / Mercury Lounge, July 9, 1998

Possibly the best solo artist of the so-called ‘neo-traditionalist country movement,’ Chicago-based Robbie Fulks proved to a passionate Mercury Lounge audience just how significant his roots-y original songs are. By emulating legends such as Hank Williams (whose microphone mannerisms Fulks has down pat), Lefty Frizzell, and George Jones, this lanky, sometimes hilarious, blonde-haired singer-guitarist offered an untainted slice of Americana.

A genuine purveyor of the Nashville sound, Fulks deserves widespread attention much more than the complacently hokey cosmopolitan cowpokes currently watering down C & W in that once vital six-string capital. Admittedly, Fulks has not broadened the scope of Country music, but his talent as a songwriter and performer is undeniable. And his ’97 LP, South Mouth, and its sterling follow-up, Let’s Kill Saturday Night, affirm his worth.

At the Merc, he impressively delivered weepy tear-stained ballads countered by humorous upbeat ditties like the ringing “I Told Her Lies.” With tongue firmly in cheek, he had the audacity to attempt a slow, deliberate version of Abba’s sugarcoated pop kernel, “Dancing Queen.” It’d be criminal and shameful if this wonderful artist didn’t receive the accolades he rightly deserves.

Longhaired aged-in-the-wool Massachusetts native, Ray Mason, delivered a clean, crisp set of down home pop and blues-y rock confections beforehand. So popular amongst the roots-rock community that a tributary collection of his originals, It’s Heartbreak That Sells, was recently released, Mason crafts stylistically eclectic tunes that come in all shapes ‘n sizes. Providing comforting details about rural New England, he sang about “Mailbox Blues,” his answering machine, and a girl going “Out Of Her Mind.”

Backed by an experienced combo, Mason scruffed up some neat guitar licks and sang in a baritone not far removed from John Hiatt or Counting Crows’ Adam Durwitz. Many highlights from this Friday night show could be found on his marvelous Castanets long-player. Nearly fifty, this avid record collector has more spirit, spunk, and charm than artists half his age.

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